RENO — Layha Spoonhunter intends to cast his first presidential vote for Barack Obama. The 18-year-old Northern Arapaho from Wyoming’s Wind River Reservation identifies with the black candidate.
"He’s been in the same position as us," Spoonhunter said. "If he’s elected, it shows Native Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanics and others that they eventually could get elected to the highest office in the land, too."
Spoonhunter is among about 1,000 young American Indians from across the country who heard messages from Obama and John McCain at the annual United National Indian Tribal Youth (UNITY) conference in Reno. The five-day gathering on Indian youth issues ends Tuesday.
In a speech, a representative of the National Congress of American Indians urged attendees to become politically active, saying the Indian vote could make a difference in this year’s presidential election.
Jackson Slim Brossy, legislative associate of the nonpartisan group based in Washington, D.C., said the Indian vote, which traditionally has been Democratic, is up for grabs this year as Obama and McCain both are trying to woo it.
He said the Indian vote was a factor in Obama’s defeat of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in June’s Montana primary, as well as in past victories of U.S. Sens. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., and Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M.