- The Washington Times - Monday, August 9, 2004

CHURCHROCK, N.M. — Targeting an audience often overlooked by presidential candidates, Democratic nominee John Kerry yesterday promised American Indians he will raise their profile in the federal government.

“There’s a feeling that people haven’t been respected, people haven’t been listened to,” Mr. Kerry told hundreds of Indians at the powwow marking the close of the 83rd Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremonial, held every August. “So I also intend to put a Native American in the White House, directly responsible for our relationship, working directly with all the tribes.”

“This is my pledge to you … John Edwards and I get in there, we will raise the funding for the Indian health system, we will put the director of the Indian Health System directly into the health care we’re going to provide for all Americans. And all America’s children will have health care automatically, immediately,” Mr. Kerry said.

On the 10th day of his post-convention tour across the country, Mr. Kerry rode by train from Albuquerque, N.M., to Flagstaff, Ariz., stopping along the way to speak at this gathering of members of tribes from the Four Corners area of the Southwest.

In Colorado late Saturday, Mr. Kerry and Mr. Edwards proposed a type of neighborhood watch for the war on terror, much like World War II civil defense wardens.

“We need a neighborhood-watch kind of system so that we have a way to notify people, they know what they’re supposed to do,” Mr. Edwards told reporters on the campaign train. “We shouldn’t have millions of Americans, or hundreds of thousands, trying to figure out at 3 o’clock in the morning what they are supposed to do. They ought to know what they’re supposed to do.”

Mr. Kerry also promised to continue funding research for missile defense, even though just two months ago, he called missile defense “the wrong priority” for a war on terror and said he supported some cuts.

“I believe in pursuing and researching and developing missile defense. I’ve supported missile-defense research,” Mr. Kerry said, though he said he doesn’t “believe in rapid deployment of a system that hasn’t been adequately tested.”

“I will continue missile-defense research, I will continue missile-defense work, because it’s important for the country,” he said.

That Mr. Kerry was spending time yesterday working for the Indian vote in New Mexico is both a reminder of Al Gore’s 366-vote victory there in 2000 — the smallest margin in the nation that year — and a way of underscoring Mr. Kerry’s message that Mr. Bush is purportedly ignoring minorities in America.

The Indians brought their own concerns to Mr. Kerry, including an appeal to do something about federal laws and regulations that strictly control the collection of eagle feathers, which were used in ceremonial outfits yesterday at the powwow.

“If we spent as much time chasing after the terrorists, rather than bothering Native Americans about their religion, we’d be a much stronger nation,” one Indian speaker said.

When an eagle feather fell from a dancer’s outfit yesterday, Mr. Kerry joined in retrieving it from the dance circle.

“I can’t tell you how special it was for me to be asked, as a veteran, to walk through the line and have the honor of helping pick up that fallen feather,” he said.

Meanwhile, Mr. Edwards split off from Mr. Kerry and the campaign train yesterday to head back to Kansas for some damage control.

Friday night, the campaign train blew through Lawrence, Kan., in 55 seconds, past hundreds of supporters who had waited hours, having been told that the train would slow as it passed through town and that Mr. Kerry would say a few words.

A television station’s video from the platform clearly shows the crowd’s frustration as the train lights disappear in the distance, including one man saying, “That’s it,” and a woman shouting, “Kerry, you suck.”

The campaign blamed the train conductor for not knowing the plan, and it hastily arranged a rally yesterday.

“Y’all called this rally, and we’re glad to be here with you,” Mr. Edwards’ wife, Elizabeth, told supporters in Lawrence yesterday.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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