May 20, 2008 11:00am
US Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama became an honorary member of a native American tribe today and promised policies to help tribal people if he wins the White House in November.
The Illinois senator who is leading rival Hillary Clinton in their race for the party’s presidential nomination, joined the Crow Nation, a tribe of some 12,100 members in Montana, taking on a native name and honorary parents in a traditional ceremony.
Obama, who would be the first black US president, was “adopted” by Hartford and Mary Black Eagle and given a name which means “one who helps all people of this land”.
“I was just adopted into the tribe, so I’m still working on my pronunciation,” Senator Obama told a crowd after stumbling over some of the native names.
“I like my new name, Barack Black Eagle,” he said. “That is a good name.”
Many in the audience wore traditional feather headdresses and some banged drums ahead of Senator Obama’s visit, the first by a presidential candidate to the Crow Nation.
Senator Obama held rallies throughout Montana, which holds its primary election on June 3.
The state is home to some 60,000 American Indians, making them a key swing vote, according to Dale Old Horn, 62, a spokesman for the Crow Nation.
Senator Obama said he would appoint a Native American adviser to his senior White House staff if he won and would work on providing better health care and education to reservations across the country.
“Few have been ignored by Washington for as long as Native Americans, the first Americans,” Senator Obama said.
Mr Old Horn said the tribal members related to Senator Obama because of his background.
“His heritage of being poor, of being an outsider, you know those two things are the commonalities that he has with us,” he said.
“We’ve always been treated like outsiders when it comes to government policy. In addition to that, we all grew up poor.”