Is Todd Palin the next LaDonna Harris?
Of special note to Indian country, Alaska's first gentleman is also of Yup'ik Eskimo descent, and Gov. Palin has cited her husband's and children's Alaska Native heritage as signs that she is committed to and well-versed on Native issues. The governor commonly refers to her husband as Alaska's "first dude."
Given his closeness to the governor, not all Indians view Todd Palin's fingerprints in the governor's dealings as such a bad thing. Some said it would be especially helpful if he could help the general public understand more about tribal issues, especially those surrounding Alaska Native Corporations.
The corporations were established in 1971 after Congress passed the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, which settled land and financial claims made by Alaska Natives and provided for the establishment of 13 regional corporations to administer those claims. Many non-Indians have had grievances about the corporations and some have argued that economic benefits have not been widely dispersed throughout the state, although studies have found otherwise.
"There's always a need to spread more knowledge about our issues, and Todd Palin is an excellent resource--I'm sure he will be involved in some way in her campaign for vice president," said Jana McKeag, a co-chair of American Indians for McCain Coalition.
"It's all about access, whether it's through a spouse, or not--the more important fact is that [McCain and Palin] care and have proactive records on Indian issues."
There is precedent for positive developments happening for Indian country at times when powerful federal officials have had Native spouses.
It's well-known that non-Indian former Democratic Sen. Fred Harris from Oklahoma placed strong emphasis on issues affecting American Indians during his terms in office. His wife is LaDonna Harris, of Comanche descent; she and her daughter, Laura Harris, continue to have strong voices in the Democratic Party.
"There's no doubt Frank made Indian issues a priority because he had a tough Comanche wife," said former Republican Colorado Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, a leader with the Northern Cheyenne Indian Tribe.
Nighthorse Campbell expects that Todd Palin, too, would have an influence on his wife's policies and beliefs involving Indian country issues, especially if she were elected to higher office.
"If you're not listening to your spouse, you're not being a very good spouse yourself," said Nighthorse Campbell.