Well, the BIG DAY is finally here, after over a year of hard work, long hours and meticulous planning - Prez on the Rez became a reality. In spite of the fact that only three of the Democratic presidential candidates decided to participate in this truly historic event, the forum was magnificent. All thanks and many kudos go to Kalyn Free, the inspiration, brains and boundless energy behind this wonderful event. Without Kalyn's extraordinaery vision - to not only found INDN's List, but also to imagine a forum in which Native people would have an opportunity to ask presidential candidates about issues that matter to them most, this day would not have become a reality. All I can say is that the candidates who did not attend this amazing meeting of tribal leaders and tribal members are the only losers today. First, I must congratulate the candidates who did have the courage and foresight to come to Prez on the Rez - they were Governor Bill Richardson, Congressman Dennis Kucinich and former Senator Mike Gravel. Native people learned much more about the positions of these three candidates and how a potential administration led by any of these three candidates might impact Indian Country.
The day started off with a bang as I was up early staffing the registration table where tribal leader after tribal leader stopped and signed in, received a nametag, and an agenda for the day. After most of the tribal leaders had registered, we were served another delicious and beautifully prepared meal and had the great pleasure of listening to Laura Flanders, author of Blue Grit (see the review of this fantastic book in this blog - posted on May 26, 2007). I had the honor of sitting next to Ms. Flanders and visiting with her while she signed copies of her book. This incredible event was followed by a meeting with the Democratic National Committee Chair person, Governor Dr. Howard Dean. During this meeting with the Campaign Camp attendees DNC Chair Dean inspired the campers to stay involved in politics when they leave Morongo and get involved in the Democratic Party. He then graciously stayed around to speak with Campaign Camp attendees individually and in small groups and posed for numerous photos with candidates, future candidates and staffers.
Faye & Laura Flanders, POTR, August 23, 2007
This all happened before Prez on the Rez even began. After being energized by the meeting with Governor Dean, we all went back into the main ballroom where Kalyn Free, Frank LaMere and Mark Trahant all took turns thanking our generous hosts - the Morongo Band of Mission Indians for allowing us to hold this historic meeting at their lovely facility. Then is was time for the candidates to make their appearances: first was Governor Richardson who reminded the audience of his long record of support for Native people and issues that matter to them, next was Congressman Kucinich (who I must say seemed to suffer from having watched "Dances with Wolves" one too many times) who basically explained his plan for bringing health care and a Department of Peace to a country that is sorely in need of both universal health coverage and a much saner foreign policy, finally Mike Gravel pounded home his message of wisdom that comes with age (although, he seemed ignorant of the Cobell litigation which has been an ongoing issue in Indian Country since 1996 - Mr. Gravel appears to be in need of a good researcher).
Faye, DNC Chair Howard Dean & Robert Holden
These are just my initial impressions of a day that I believe I will never forget. Now that dinner is over and I am getting ready to hit the sack, I must remark on the amazing Governor Howard Dean who was the keynote speaker tonight. His theme, "that Native people must no longer be content with a seat at the table, but rather must aim higher, for a place on the ticket," resonanted strongly with the audience. He spoke about the fifty-state strategy that most Democrats have credited with the success of Democratic candidates in 2006. He talked about the need to bring the values of the Democratic Party, namely that each and every person is equal under the law, to the forefront of our fight to take this country back from the Republicans who apparently believe that some people are more equal than others. He spoke eloquently and powerfully to a crowd eager for a message that reinforces themes of equality, justice, and true American values, which not coincidently are the same values that are important in Native communities. Wow, what an amazing day!