tribal flag berers
Tribal flag bearers, United San Antonio Pow Wow, Feb. 2008
Photo: Audrey

A self-consciously politically-correct query arrived from an editor for a magazine that shall not be named:

“Now, Mary Annette, is the correct terminology Native American or American Indian? And then what are “˜non-Native Americans or American Indians’?”

The response I’d really like to have sent: “Have just sent out a mass email to the conveniently named Indians online (as though each community of color is hooked into a means to communicate with each other simultaneously) and I’ll get back w/you when everyone responds. As for non-Indians, well they’re just plain old white people.”

Ah, diversity, you gotta love it. We brown human types just refuse to be nailed down. We keep having these opinions. Yes, just like everyone else, Indians, American Indians, “Skins” and even those dang Native Americans just can’t get it together and agree on a public agenda.

Note to editor lady: “Yes, dear editor. Life is complicated.”

American Indians — I’m just gonna run wild here and use all kinds of names for the giant crowd of tribes, more than 500, who inhabit the United States — are not a monolithic group. Over 60 percent of us live in cities. Our life experiences and politics vary widely.

This latter fact was brought home to me vividly when I was recently jerked up for assuming there are no Republican Indians. (See my story in the Yonder here.) Not only are there Republican Native Americans, there is an American Indians for McCain Coalition. Furthermore, a home girl, Aurene Martin, Bad River Ojibwe, Menominee and Oneida tribes from Wisconsin, is a member.

Aurene is no ordinary home girl. She’s past Acting Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Indian Affairs and currently works as a high powered lobbyist and attorney in Washington, D.C. Raised on the Menominee Reservation in Wisconsin where the word “keen” has unfortunate overtones, she now sashays with authority and ease among the politically powerful. A long-time Republican, she points to McCain’s track record in protecting Native rights and his support of tribal self-determination. She brushes aside perceptions that his party has not exactly been pro-Indian.

Despite our political differences, it pleases me to imagine this cosmopolitan Indian, with her undergraduate degree in Italian, deftly navigating the Washington scene.

Racial pride aside, however, I also admit I am deeply gratified to hear that her relatives and friends back in Neopit tease the hell out of her for her Republican Party membership. Raised by a family of Democrats, she was recently accused of exercising undo influence over her nieces and nephews in their elementary school's mock presidential election.

“Auntie made us vote Republican!” the kiddies cried.

It’s comforting to know that Indian relatives everywhere can be counted on to jab us back to rez reality should we forget ourselves.

Overall, I must say that the presidential campaign has been an agonizing experience for me. Exciting and groundbreaking as it has been, I find myself wishing that it would just be over. Initially, I felt heady with power, as I heard both candidates courting the Indian vote. As the campaigns continue to slog it out, however, I keep learning more and more shocking things that I wish I didn’t know.

Indian movement flag
American Indian Movement flag
Photo: Crazy Horse

For one thing, I just found out that my Uncle Russell plans to vote Republican!

Uncle Russell married a woman from a tribe out west and now lives there with his family on her reservation in Idaho. A Korean War veteran and retired Bureau of Indian Affairs cop, he is a bear of a man. I often imagine that he must have blotted out the sun for many a criminal as he bore down, his very long arms swinging authoritatively. He is a no-nonsense kinda guy. For all his commanding presence, however, Russell is a gentle, reflective soul.

Russell is impressed with McCain’s war record and his POW experience. He eschews party affiliation and insists that he primarily votes for “the man,” in elections. Russell hopes McCain will help Iraqi War veterans who he thinks have largely been forgotten. Russell is also concerned about what he says is Barack Obama’s Islamic heritage. (Yes, that’s still going around.) Russell was a bit vague on this one, but it seems that he believes that Obama would be vulnerable in terms of his allegiance. McCain’s constant references to his veteran and POW status may be paying off more than I realize.

So, consider me slapped. There are, indeed, Republican Indians. Now, for the correct terminology of this political type, I vote for “Republiskins.”

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