Clinton Vows To Help U.S. Indians
Associated Press Writer
Friday, March 10, 2000; 2:16 a.m. EST
WASHINGTON President Clinton made a direct appeal for American Indians to vote for Democratic candidates in elections this fall, saying his party is completely committed to their concerns.
In a speech Thursday to American Indians who gave a total $350,000 to Democratic congressional candidates, Clinton cast them as victims of a negligent U.S. government that took away land and mineral rights while giving them little in return. He promised to remedy that.
"This is the part of our historical legacy we want to be proud of, and it will never be right until we get it right," Clinton said. "This is a country that's supposed to be founded on equal opportunity, equal justice, mutual respect, everybody having a chance."
He asked that American Indians support Democrats in congressional races, saying the "very good Republican support" he expects to get on his budget proposals on American Indians pales in comparison to the work that Democrats do on their behalf.
"Our party has had a consistent, determined leadership position that goes from top to bottom, throughout the entire United States Congress, that we support the direction that you advocate," Clinton said. "This is about whether people will be organized and energized to go out and vote, to recognize that when you lay down your weapons, you have to pick up your ballot."
Clinton's comments on Indians were his most extensive since he visited the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota last July. Residents there struggle with high unemployment, substandard housing and inadequate education all of which plague other Indian reservations as well, Clinton said.
"Our real goal ought to be the fundamental empowerment of the Native American tribes in this country as envisioned by the Constitution, required by the Supreme Court," Clinton said. "And I want you to help me ... get this nation-to-nation relationship right in a way that will allow you all to be lifted up."
According to the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, 1.43 million Indians live on or near reservations. Only 63 percent of Indians are high school graduates, 29 percent are homeless and 59 percent live in substandard housing.
The president said he keeps traditional Native American artifacts drums, eagle feathers, a tobacco pouch in his office as a reminder of "my solemn obligation" to address their needs. He recalled reading, as a child, the words of Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce: "From this day, I will fight no more forever."
"You made that pledge and you got a bad deal," Clinton said. "The deal never worked out in a way that was fair to both sides and honorable."
The fund-raiser was the first of two events Thursday in which Clinton focused on racial healing.
At the other, a gathering of religious leaders at the White House, the president reiterated his belief that African immigrant Amadou Diallo likely would not have been killed by police had he been white. He said Diallo's death pointed out a need for training police to be more sensitive to the communities they serve while addressing more directly the pressures that police officers face.
"I wish I could bring that boy back for his mother and his friends, to give him the life he should have had. But I can't do that," Clinton said.
The White House gathering brought together Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Baha'is, Catholic priests and one Buddhist monk in a saffron-colored robe. They agreed to formally teach that racism is a sin, and also reported on efforts within their faiths to deal with racism, with varying degrees of progress.
Bishop S. Clifton Ives, United Methodist bishop for West Virginia, said his denomination is seeking a way through which white followers can be "challenged on the notion of white privilege, and that will be hard for some." Rosa Banks, human relations director of the Seventh-day Adventists, said "our commitment is being tested" after dialogues uncovered other sore spots, "but we have solidly planted race relations on our agenda."
©Copyright 2000, The Associated Press