By Allison Herrera
As a group, Native Americans traditionally vote Democrat. Their economic status and views on environmental issues, among other things, tend to align more with established democratic ideals. President Obama helped solidify that support by actively reaching out to tribes during his two terms in office. But there are significant pockets of conservative Native voters, most notably in Oklahoma, the home of the only two Native American members of Congress. Both are Republicans.
Presidential candidate Donald Trump’s campaign recently pieced together a new group called the Native American Coalition. Rep. Mullin is one of the conservative leaders guiding the group.
“When you look back as far as history goes with Indian Country versus the government, it’s kind of similar to what we’ve been fighting for, for many many years–getting the government out of our way,” Mullin said. “You know, let us live our lives and don’t make us ask permission every time we want to do something.”
Mullin is Cherokee and believes the Republican ideals of strong family, self-sufficiency and less government regulation resonate with Native voters and will garner more votes for Trump.
But Trump himself has made some missteps in his campaign. He offended many Native Americans by repeatedly insulting Senator Elizabeth Warren, calling her ‘Pocahontas’. He was referring to Warren’s earlier disputed claim that she has Native American ancestry. Many Native American voters are also well aware of video of Trump’s testimony in front of a U.S. House of Representatives in 1993. He was complaining about tax breaks given to Native-run casinos. Referring to the ownership of the casinos, he complained, “They don’t look Indian to me…”
Someone who shares Rep. Mullen’s optimism for appealing to Native American voters is Neal McCaleb, the former secretary of Transportation in Oklahoma.
“One of the things that Donald Trump said to Black people that I think applies to Native Americans–especially in remote areas that are economically deprived that have traditionally voted Democrat: ‘What have you got to lose’ by switching to a more individualistic concept?” McCaleb said.
McCaleb is a member of the Chickasaw Nation. He said Native people fare worse under Democratic administrations. He acknowledges the very real problems prevalent in Native communities like alcoholism, poverty and high suicide rates. But he insists those have never been solved by liberal programs that he claims are intended to redistribute wealth. He says Native American communities do best when they pull themselves up by their bootstraps, a key Republican philosophy.