Responding to criticism about its lack of outreach to American Indians this election season, the Obama campaign has included a Native American section on its website, uploaded June 15.
Before June 15, the Obama campaign website failed to list American Indians under its targeted voting groups. African Americans, Latinos, Asians, Jews, gays, and women were all listed.
The lack of inclusion drew widespread questions and concern from Indian country.
The site now includes a “Native Americans” link on its main page, as well as a subsection of the site that includes a list of President Barack Obama’s accomplishments for Indians during his years in office. The section is called, “A place for Native Americans to organize and speak out in support of President Obama and his accomplishments,” and it includes a logo with the words, “Native Americans for Obama, Est. 2007.”
At launch, the still basic site included a note from Debra Haaland, a director of Native get-out-the-vote activities in New Mexico. “This time around, I am every bit as inspired as I was in 2008, only now the President has a long list of accomplishments in Indian [c]ountry,” she shared. “His dedication to Native solutions and support in Indian communities, specifically in New Mexico, led the All Indian Pueblo Council to give New Mexico’s first official endorsement to the President on December 15, 2011. It was the grandest of affairs. I expect that 2012 will be every bit as exciting and rewarding as 2008.”
The Obama campaign addressed the oversight at a gathering of Native get-out-the-vote officials in its Chicago headquarters on June 15. Organizers said plans had previously been in the works to launch the site, but some Indians wondered why all the other groups had been included on the site before Natives.
Indians at the invite-only gathering expressed concern at the way the campaign had been handling Native outreach to date, saying that the Obama camp appears to be doing much less this year to encourage Native voters than it did in 2008.
Some Indian attendees were also disappointed to learn that the campaign plans to rely on Democratic Party state efforts to organize the Native vote. The danger is that many of these organizations have had a tendency to overlook the Native vote completely in past years, and they have often seemed to treat Indian voters as an afterthought.
The campaign is expected to hold a national tribal leaders meeting next month, but details have yet to be confirmed.
Tribal leaders from the Navajo Nation, the Santa Clara Pueblo, and the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians were present at the June 15 meeting, as were Natives from around the nation, eager to get to work on the campaign. Lona Wilbur, a Swinomish citizen, was expected to be in attendance. She is one of the few Native Democratic super-delegates in the nation. Cecelia Fire Thunder, of the Oglala Sioux, and Todd Goodman, a Caddo citizen, are also super-delegates as members of the Democratic National Committee.
The hot topic of whether Obama will visit any tribes and reservations during this campaign, as he did in 2008, has not been addressed.
Mitt Romney’s campaign has yet to respond to questions on how it will engage Native voters this year.