[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/06/02/art.nativeamerican.obama.jpg caption="A young supporter tries to get a look at Democratic presidential hopeful, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., arriving at a rally in Crow Agency, Mont., Monday, May 19, 2008."]
Program Note: See Randi’s full report on the Native American vote tonight on AC360° at 10p.
It was my first trip to Montana… and it was just as beautiful as I had imagined it would be. Rolling hills. Open plains. Lots of horses. That was until we arrived at the Crow Reservation in Crow Agency, Montana. This is where about 8000 members of the Crow Tribe live and it is one of the poorest areas of the country. We meet Darrin Old Coyote, our guide, and it doesn’t take long to see why these people want a president who is willing to help them.
Old Coyote tells me some families on the reservation are having to choose between food and fuel. They are jobless and hopeless. Why? Old Coyote says, “We as Indian people feel like a third world country in the U.S. A lot of our problems are basically forgotten.” Old Coyote says they want a president who will acknowledge their hardships, and on this reservation, that appears to be Barack Obama.
Obama has met behind closed doors with Crow tribal leaders, as he’s done with many other tribes. These meetings are not publicized, but Obama’s campaign knows the tribal leaders have the power to sway thousands of votes. In general, Native Americans tend to vote as families, in large blocs. And they traditionally and overwhelmingly vote Democrat! Obama was adopted by the Crow tribe during a recent swing through here. He even got a Crow Indian name, which translated, means, “one who helps people throughout the land.”
Both Obama and Hillary Clinton have made promises to give Native Americans more of a voice in Washington. Obama says he will honor broken treaty obligations and appoint an American Indian policy advisor to his senior white house staff. Clinton has made similar promises. But the people I met on this reservation seem to be more drawn to Obama because they feel like he’s one of them. His own African American heritage helps him understand their struggle. In fact, he told them during his visit, “I know what it's like to not always have been respected or have been ignored and I know what it's like to struggle.”
In Montana, Native Americans make up more than 6 percent of the population. In years past, they haven’t shown up in great numbers at the polls because they have always felt devalued and never really trusted the federal government. Not this time. So many are expected to vote, it brought one woman we spoke with to tears.
A choked up Jennifer Flatlip told me, “It’s the first time. First time that we are going to be empowering somebody we think can make a difference. Our voices are gonna be huge. Our votes gonna make a difference.”
We’ll see if she’s right tomorrow. Primary day June 3rd.
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