Levi Rickert, editor-in-chief in Native Condition. Discussion »
American Indians Matter
With the brilliant colors of yellow, orange and red leaves on thousands of trees, autumn is a beautiful time of the year in Upper Michigan. Coupled with the shoreline of a majestic Lake Michigan, driving through Upper Michigan was a great way to spend the first Saturday in October.
I spent Saturday covering the announcement by Derek Bailey's announcement that he is running for Congress in Upper Michigan.
Bailey is the current chairman of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, based in Peshawbestown, Michigan.
While Bailey is an American Indian running for Congress, he is not merely the American Indian candidate. He has already run and won the highest post in his tribe.
There is much more to Bailey's composition than his ethnicity. Bailey is an educated man with great leadership skills who just happens to be an American Indian.
His leadership skills transcend leading the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians. Among his leadership repertoire is his work on the Munson Medical Center Bioethics Committee; Michigan Land Use Institute Advisory Council; Big Brothers/Big Sisters; Girl Scouts of Crooked Tree Board Member and Central Michigan University School of Social Work Advisory Committee Member.
The thirty-eight year old chairman is stepping out where many American Indians dare not tread.
Bailey has announced his candidacy for Congress ten months before Michigan's primary next August 7, 2012. Given the complexities of Congressional elections with raising money and name recognition, it is not too early. There is a lot of work to be done in ten months.
During the history of the United States, less than ten American Indians have served in Congress. Currently, Republican Tom Cole, an enrolled tribal member of the Chickasaw Tribe from Oklahoma's 4th Congressional District, is the only American Indian presenting serving in Congress.
There needs to more American Indians elected to Congress. We no longer live in a society of "us" and "them." Nor should American Indians allow the "them" treat us as such.
Even with the small size of sheer numbers, which sometimes represents less than five percent of total citizens per locale, American Indians matter. Ask any politician in Upper Michigan. Because of Indian enterprises and tribal governments, American Indian tribes are the largest employers in Upper Michigan. Furthermore, given how many jobs have left Michigan for China and Mexico during the past decade, Michigan would be in a major depression without American Indian enterprises there.
American Indian influence is prevalent in other parts of the country. The Seminole Tribe of Florida, which owns the Hard Rock Cafes worldwide, is just one example. Their influence and impact on Florida's economy is significant.
American Indians do matter and should have a loud and clear voice in policy development and decision-making beyond tribal council chambers.
Instead of sitting on the sidelines and looking in and merely criticizing government, American Indians need to get on the ballot and get elected to be on the inside crafting policies in the halls of Congress that impact all Americans.
Even with much work ahead of him, Bailey is to be commended for his entry into mainstream American politics. Other American Indians around the country should do the same.
Driving down from Sault Ste Marie over the Mackinac Bridge towards Traverse City, I enjoyed more the sheer beauty of a Michigan autumn day. I saw a possibility of a new leader in Upper Michigan, who just happens to be an American Indian.
posted October 5, 2011 11:30 am edt
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