With the final outcome of last Tuesday's presidential election results being broadcast live, it was difficult to ignore the celebratory mood of local Native voters who primarily supported Democratic candidate, Barack Obama.
In the past, Republican candidate John McCain was the lone, steadfast choice for most American Indians living in Arizona, but this time around it was different.
With Obama taking New Mexico on election day due to many votes from Native supporters, the new president-elect should probably be thanking Wizipan Garriott who served as vote director for the Obama campaign in what was called the "First Americans" program.
"First Americans" is a special voter outreach program targeting Democratic Native voters. This program had two Chicago-based staffers who coordinated the nationwide effort and recruited locals on reservations around the country to serve as paid organizers.
Montana, Alaska, North Dakota, Wisconsin, Michigan and New Mexico were targeted at all parts of the Obama campaign.
Natives have significant presence in North Dakota (4.8 percent), Montana (6.4 percent) and Indian voter representation is nearly 10 percent of the total population in the state of New Mexico.
Democratic National Chairman Howard Dean sought to incorporate Natives into the process not just for Native votes, but for participation in economic support.
"The Democratic party has always said that everyone deserves a place at the table, but Chairperson Dean told us, 'That is not enough, Native Americans need to have a place on the ballot,'" said Democratic National Committee spokesperson Damien LaVera
Interviewing local Hopis and Navajos, this is what some had to say.
"It wasn't surprising to have Obama win, but I voted for McCain," said Ron Begay, Navajo Tribal member. "My vote for a Republican candidate this time, had more to do with McCain's long term experience and I felt he was really strong on national issues and didn't think Obama was truly strong or experienced in that area. I do think, however that Obama's win is a big plus for Native Americans because the Democratic party is more liberal and is more friendly to native issues. But for myself, personally, McCain was the better choice."
"I pretty much knew that Obama would win but I deeply admire McCain, because of his sincere sacrifice and service to our country," said Navajo Tribal member Brenda Norris. "It wasn't a major shock to have Obama win but I felt McCain was the better choice in terms of leadership.
"I also voted for Hopi Royce Jenkins because I saw work statistics on Navajo candidate Albert Hale, and with Hale's voting and lack of meeting attendance record, I thought Jenkins would be better choice for Natives," she said.
"I voted for Obama. I considered the history of minorities in this country and their struggle for equal rights. We are in essentially the same position as blacks, Hispanics and Orientals in those same lack of equality endeavors," said Bob Lomadafkie, Hopi Tribal member. "Remembering this, made it very easy to support Obama. I didn't vote for other Native candidates in some areas, because I really didn't know their records."
"I like being an Independent, that way I can go either way without feeling pressed to follow a particular party line. I was open to either candidate this time but was really persuaded during the second presidential debate to vote for Obama," said Gabriel Yaiva, Hopi/Navajo tribal member, Independent party.
"The debate moderator asked what they would do to end dependency on foreign oil and McCain said, he would put up 45 new nuclear power plants, look into offshore drilling and open wildlife refuges for drilling as well," Yaiva said.
"Obama said he would need about 10 years realistically to find a permanent fix for the oil dependency. He said he would look into renewable energy, solar and wind power and demand that vehicle manufacturers make more efficient cars," he said. "I was also impressed by the fact that Obama is a man of color, and his acceptance speech is the first time I can remember any candidate mentioning us as Native Americans having a role in what happens politically in this country.
"Obama has mended a lot of broken Native spirits, and it was the first time I can remember that I was actually proud to be an American citizen, concluded Yaiva.
More like this story
- Primaries yield few surprises in Coconino, Navajo counties
- Letter: Arizona should consider changing 'Open Primary' system
- Kirkpatrick promises support for District 1
- Tribal News: Vice President Shelly meets with Senator Barack Obama
- Vice President Shelly, tribal leaders meet with Sen. John McCain on Memorial Day