Dear President Obama:
I write this within our tradition, with honor and respect . . . and with a heavy heart.
As Indians, we have been among your strongest supporters. We understand all too well what it's like to be part of a group that is not of the dominant culture. We respect the efforts that you made to reach out to our communities, both during your 2008 campaign and after assuming office. We are grateful for the work you and your administration have done on our behalf.
We cheered when you were adopted into the Crow Nation as Barack Black Eagle. [And many of us metaphorically adopted you into our own nations and families, too.]
And now, when it's time to launch your re-election campaign in earnest . . . why is there not one of us on your most public team?
Why are we invisible, even to your closest campaign advisers?
Why is your own family invisible to you?
Mr. President, we have a saying about things like this: "It hurts the heart."
And today, our hearts are wounded.
We thought we'd made some progress. We thought we were finally being seen: as nations, as people, as individuals, as voters. We had hope.
This morning, Wings announced that he was taking your 2012 bumper sticker off the truck.
I talked him out of it. For now. But let me tell you a little bit about this man.
He is Tiwa - a full-blood. He can trace his ancestry on this continent back, undiluted, a thousand years and then some. Long registered as a Democrat, he mostly didn't even bother to vote. "'I don't get involved in that political stuff," he told me when we first met. "It doesn't do any good, so why bother?"
Now, me? I've been a political creature from childhood. So I'm not really a very good yardstick for measuring political engagement, whether among Indians or among voters generally. Wings, on the other hand, is the sort of voter of candidate wants, needs, and so often cannot get.
In 2008, all that changed. The crimes and tragedies of the Bush years had made the need for engagement obvious even to him. But what really grabbed his attention, and held it, was an inspiring young Senator from the State of Illinois with a name that sounded as funny as ours. You won't remember, but you and I met once, many years ago, when you were still an Illinois State Senator. So I was able to relay to him the impressions I formed of you - both personal and professional - at that event. And his interest was piqued.
We followed the 2008 primaries closer than we've ever followed anything. It didn't take long for him to realize that were different from any politician he'd even seen. And soon we both were all in for your candidacy. Everywhere we went - the gallery, a restaurant, the grocery store, the post office, the hospital - he'd ask everyone he met if they were registered to vote, and urge them to vote for you. He went out of his way to get bumper stickers for each vehicle. He put a decal of the iconic Shepard Fairey poster in the window of his gallery at the Pueblo (where, I believe, it still hangs to this day). He painted your campaign logo on a block of wood and mounted it on the back of the barn, where, as I write this, it can still be seen from the highway.
We watched the inauguration - something he'd never done. He followed your actions and decisions nearly as closely as I did. Two summers ago, when "certain leaders" at the annual Boy Scout summer jamboree booed your taped speech and made slanderous remarks, he was infuriated. When the next set of Boy Scout troops came through his gallery, he told them he had a message for them to take back to their leaders and parents: "Tell them that the old Indian at Taos Pueblo says you're not to disrespect his President." He already made a tiny donation to your re-election campaign - tiny because, in the last three years, we have lost our home, both our vehicles, and much, much more, thanks to Republican malfeasance and the economic crash. Nonetheless, he thought it was important to squeeze out ten dollars to help ensure your re-election.
But today, we see that your national campaign co-chairs have been announced. Thirty-five people. And yet there wasn't room for a single Indian.
Really, Mr. President?
I understand. This is the sort of thing for which you pay your campaign advisers. It's their job to think of these things. And I also understand exactly how the diversity discussion went: "African American?" "Check." "Latino?" "Check." "Asian?" "Check." "Jewish?" "Check." "Muslim?" "Check." "Christian?" "Check." "LGBT?" "Check." "Disabled?" "Check." And not once, I'll wager, did the terms "American Indian" or "Native American" so much as enter the head of a single soul present, much less enter the discussion.
Because, you see, we are invisible.
Now, don't get me wrong. I'm delighted that every single group I mentioned has representation. They need it. Indeed, I notice that there's even representation, for lack of a better term, for migrant workers, which is wonderful. But that tells me that the key here is not how much money there is to raise from a particular demographic, because migrant workers are as poor as we are.
No. Your advisers simply don't see us.
And yet Indians are a reliably Democratic demographic - given sufficient reason to get out the vote. We're second only to African Americans in that. And while our numbers may be relatively few overall, we regularly provide the make-or-break votes in numerous districts, including many that are expected to play significant roles in the upcoming election.
We also have numerous leaders who would make great national co-chairs - or "ambassadors," as I gather they're calling themselves - for your campaign. At the top of my list would be Kalyn Free, who founded INDN's List (the Indigenous Democratic Network), and who is already a supporter of yours. We also have numerous stellar candidates running for office this year in jurisdictions around the country.
Please, Mr. President. Take a few moments about of your busy day to think about this. I realize that 35 probably appeals to your staffers' sense of a nice, neat, tidy number. But that can't be a basis for choosing your national co-chairs. You need us. We need you.
And we need you to see us.
Your family needs you to see us.
Omaa dayaamin geyaabii (we are still here).
With respect ~
~ Ajijaakwe and Wings