Sunday, June 19, 2005

Indian Country loves Schweitzer

More evidence that Schweitzer is winning the battle for the hearts and minds of Native Americans:

The beat of the drum heralded the beginning of graduation exercises for students at Salish Kootenai College. Elders Octave Finley and Agnes Kenmille, dressed in tribal regalia, led the grand entry as students filed into the gymnasium to hear a commencement address by Gov. Brian Schweitzer and receive their diplomas. ...

SKC President Dr. Joseph McDonald introduced Schweitzer by commenting: ''It's a great joy to go to the state Capitol now. Each person is treated like a guest. The governor's staff goes all-out to help. The governor is there to talk to you and listen to you and hear what you have to say. The entire mood of state government has changed.'' He presented the governor with an honorary Bachelor of Arts degree in Native American Studies, ''the highest award our college can give.''

Schweitzer drew enthusiastic and prolonged applause throughout his commencement address. Appropriately dressed in blue jeans and a beaded vest, his remarks were loudly received. He began by saying, ''On Jan. 3 I stood in the rotunda of the Capitol building with the sound of the drums, and I said to the people of Montana: 'It's a new day in Montana. We will respect all the people of Montana and, first and foremost, the first Montanans.''' He continued, ''We have already appointed more people from Indian country than the previous 22 governors combined.''

Regarding education, the governor stated: ''We have put historic amounts of money in our tribal colleges because we believe the opportunity to build on the culture that has been here for 10,000 years is good for all of Montana and we will invest in tribal colleges. We believe that every child living in Montana should know the rich cultural history of Montana for the 10,000 years before Lewis and Clark stumbled across Montana.

''What makes this country the greatest country on this planet is not our immense natural resources, because there are countries that have more. It is not the size of our rivers, the size of our mountains, the size of our seacoasts. What makes this country the greatest country in the world is public education.

''It doesn't matter if you were born into a family with just one parent and that one parent has two jobs and you live in the smallest house in the community. Or if both parents have Ph.D.s and you live on the country club in the ritziest part of this county. It matters not a whit because with public education, your heart, your head, you can go anywhere. It's not about your parents: it's about you - and that is why we're the greatest country in the world.''

The governor urged the graduates to enjoy the future, not to rush it but to take it one day at a time and to take time to be with family. ''Furthermore, never forget where you came from,'' he said. ''You have the richest cultural background of any place on this planet.''
A bit of hyperbole there at the end, when he calls his government "the most progressive, the most Indian-friendly administration in the history of this country," but the point got across. Notice that the article comes from a Native American paper. If Schweitzer continues to talk like this, his Native American support may even extend to other Democrats both in and out of Montana.


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