Not willing to cede the American Indian vote in what promises to be a close presidential election this November, Republican candidate Mitt Romney agreed to discuss with Indian Country Today Media Network some of the important issues facing Native citizens and tribes today.
“I respect and support the sovereignty of Native American tribes and recognize the importance of their culture to the rich fabric of this great country,” Romney says. “I welcome the support and input of the tribes in our fight to restore America as the most prosperous country in the world and a beacon of liberty.”
While the former governor of Massachusetts is saying the right things about sovereignty and other tribal matters, he still has an uphill battle to convince a majority of Indians that they should support him. He has met with tribal leaders and hosted a Native fund-raiser this summer, talked regularly with Indian consultants during his long campaign, and his people helped write the strong tribal sovereignty-focused platform that was unveiled in August at the GOP convention. These actions matter, Romney’s Indian supporters say, because while Democrats have taken action on behalf of Indian country in recent times, Republican ideas have long been the impetus for tribal self-determination and economic development—strong and widely supported philosophies in most of Indian country. Indians have learned that no matter who seems to be their best friend in Washington, D.C. at any given moment, it is always smart to foster relationships across the aisle to be sure that Native voices are consistently heard and Native concerns are addressed.
In courting Indians, Romney is not afraid to express views that will be unpopular with some tribal citizens, such as his fervent support for the Keystone XL pipeline, saying that it is a “crucial step” in his plan to achieve North American energy independence by 2020.
President Barack Obama’s interview with ICTMN this past week was the first time a sitting president did a Q&A with the Native press. Similarly, Romney’s answers here, submitted via e-mail, are a milestone, the first time a Republican challenger for the presidency has done a Q&A with the Native press.
Many Republicans, including President Richard Nixon, have been among the greatest supporters of Indian self-determination. Do you see yourself continuing in that tradition?
Americans Indians truly embody the American spirit of entrepreneurship, hard work and self-reliance. It is this spirit that will help our country return to economic prosperity. I acknowledge and appreciate this spirit and will support tribes in their efforts to create and expand their economic opportunities. As president, I will be committed to providing tribes a seat at the table so that we can work together to get our economy back on track. I value the tribes’ input, and my administration will work to foster a culture of collaboration and respect.
What does tribal sovereignty mean to you? Do you see it as akin to states’ rights?
Tribal sovereignty is a fundamental part of our national heritage and is recognized in our Constitution. I respect and support the sovereignty of Native American tribes and recognize the importance of their culture to the rich fabric of this great country. My administration will treat this government-to-government relationship with the respect it deserves. I believe that along with continued self-determination, tribes must be empowered to pursue continued economic development and expanded prosperity. I welcome the support and input of the tribes in our fight to restore America as the most prosperous country in the world and a beacon of liberty.
What is the best way to resolve conflicts between tribal nations and the federal and state governments?
My administration will be committed to fostering and preserving a strong relationship with our nation’s tribes; one built on mutual consideration, respect and trust. As president, I will work with the tribes to improve vital services and receive input on policy. For example, I respect the unique relationship Native American tribes have with the land. I believe this relationship is key to both tribal culture and future prosperity. I am dedicated to ensuring that that relationship is not adversely encroached upon. In addition, my administration will work to improve government inefficiencies that hinder federal services to tribes and impede tribes’ economic opportunities.
Where do you stand on tribal gaming?
I respect the sovereignty of tribal governments and the rights of tribes under federal law, including their rights to operate gaming facilities in compliance with the law. I realize that tribes have thrived in their management of the gaming industry. This success should be respected and not hampered by Big Labor special interests. Additionally, I will fight attempts by Big Labor to compromise the economic liberty of Native Americans.
What is your position on the Keystone XL pipeline?
North America is the fastest-growing oil- and gas-producing region in the world, and the continent now has an opportunity to achieve freedom from OPEC that would not have even been contemplated just 10 years ago. Unfortunately, President Obama has chosen to turn his back on America’s neighbors. He rejected the Keystone XL pipeline, which would have dramatically increased the supply of Canadian oil to the U.S. market, and now Canada plans to send that oil to China instead. Today, America still imports more oil from OPEC than it does from Canada and Mexico.
As Canadian Prime Minister [Stephen] Harper notes, fostering a greater North American energy partnership that replaces OPEC imports with stable supply from secure sources at discounted prices should be a no-brainer. And Mexico is now displaying a renewed interest in collaborating with outside partners to increase development of its own plentiful resources. By collaborating with these countries on energy development, America can guarantee itself a reliable and affordable supply of energy while also opening up new opportunities for American businesses and workers in the region. Construction of the Keystone XL pipeline is a crucial step in my plan to achieve North American energy independence by 2020. On day one of my presidency, I will approve the Keystone XL pipeline.