Thursday, October 16, 2014

Potlatch for Politicians

Timothy Egan, NYT
OCT. 15, 2014

An editor with multiple graduate degrees once called me up with a story idea hatched among fellow trend-sniffers in Manhattan. “Indians,” he said, with practiced urgency. “Something’s going on with American Indians. Look into it and tell me what you think.”

Dutifully, I reported back that the first Americans were still poor, still forgotten, still there — albeit with casinos and better lobbyists in Washington. The forgotten part applies especially at elections, given that natives who list themselves as “Indian alone” on the census form make up less than 1 percent of the total population of the United States.

But — news alert! — with barely two weeks to go until the midterm federal election, the most underrepresented people in the country could be the kingmakers for control of the Senate. Let us pause for the cynical voice of an Indian friend who thinks that elections don’t matter: “Democrats, Republicans, they’re all white to me,” he says.

Still, the fact that all the money and manipulations of the Koch brothers could be undone by a handful of native voters living in some of the poorest and most remote parts of the land is a tribute to our teetering democracy. More time has been wasted defending the name of the Washington Professional Football Team than has ever been spent discussing tribal sovereignty or how the modern diet is killing too many natives. Yet now, important-sounding people have been forced to learn a phrase in Yup’ik, or find Shannon County, S.D., on a map.

(More here.)

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