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Clinton affirms commitment to Native American issues

PABLO, Mont.

Hillary Rodham Clinton pledged her commitment Tuesday to tribal sovereignty and Indian health care.

“I want to be a strong partner with Indian country,” the Democratic presidential candidate told several hundred people at Salish Kootenai College on the sprawling Flathead Indian reservation. Among other things, she promised to name a representative of the American Indian community to work alongside her in the White House.

Clinton’s visit came a week before primaries in Montana and South Dakota are expected to feature a sizable representation of American Indian voters.

In an exceptionally scenic setting of snow-covered mountains and tall pine trees, the former first lady was greeted by dancers performing a spiritual dance and given a set of moccasins and a necklace by Joe McDonald, president of the tribal college.

“Wear this next to your heart,” McDonald told her. Clinton wore the beaded necklace as she spoke.

Trailing Barack Obama among delegates as he edges closer to securing enough for the party’s presidential nomination, Clinton appeared moved and calmed by the scene that greeted her. “I humbly ask for your support,” she said to applause.

Americans Indians are expected to make up as much as 20 percent of next Tuesday’s Democratic primary voters in Montana, and more than 10 percent in South Dakota, where Clinton was headed Wednesday. She planned to visit the Pine Ridge Reservation, home to several thousand members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe.

Obama also has paid heed to American Indian concerns, even as he has begun to focus on the likely general election contest against Republican John McCain. Earlier this month, he visited Montana’s Crow Indian reservation and was adopted into the Crow Nation during a private ceremony.

McCain also has ties to American Indians. He is from Arizona and is a former chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.

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