Skip to content

Minding the Mountain

Ashley Haley

Ashley Haley, 23, poses for a portrait on the campus of the University of Montana

By Tetona Dunlap

Barack Obama became a pop culture icon during his presidential campaign, but for young Native American voters like Ashley Haley he symbolized more.

Ashley Haley, 23, is a senior studying political science and Native American studies at the University of Montana.  Haley is Chippewa Cree and grew up on the Rocky Boy Reservation in Montana.

Born on Election Day, Haley has always been interested in politics.  She voted for Obama, and for the first time, she felt that she could relate to a presidential candidate even if she did not agree with all his platforms.

“Obama is from a middle-class background, a mixed background.  He represented minorities,” said Haley, “I’m not going to say I voted for him strictly based on his race, but it did help me with identifying with him.”

Haley’s largest influences on her politics have been growing up on the reservation and her college education. After graduating she plans to attend law school and specialize in tribal law.

“Growing up on a reservation exposes you to a level of poverty you don’t experience in mainstream society. Everyday you see what Indian policy has done to Native Americans and it made me want to learn more about politics and how the government worked.”

When Obama visited the Crow Reservation in Montana during his presidential campaign, she felt he was making an effort to reach out to Native American communities.

“For once it was like we were represented or even looked at,” said Haley.  “We are the most underrepresented minority. Even if it was one reservation it was still a reservation…it made us feel that connection because he saw where we were from.”

She admits Obama is swamped and Native American issues have been put on the back burner.  However, she said Americans must be realistic in their expectations.

“He can’t move mountains.  It’s sad he has not had enough time to devote to Native American issues, but at the same time, we can’t expect him to put everything else on hold.  We depend on the government to function just as much as he does.”

Growing up, Haley’s family did not debate politics at the dinner table. Her sole outlet for political conversation is her grandfather, who actually campaigned for Obama.  Finding politically motivated Native Americans is something rare for her to come by.

“There are definitely smart, politically motivated Native American people, but they are so far and few between that you have to have a conference to get them all together.”

Haley is often the only minority in her political science classes and feels like her peers cannot relate to her background.

“It’s more than just skin color.  It comes down to economic, cultural and even political differences.  A lot of times we talk about minority issues and it feels like I have to say something.  I’m that token minority person to stand up for all the minorities.”

Nevertheless, Haley is optimistic about the future of Obama’s presidency.

“I don’t see ourselves staying stagnate…[but] we need to have real-life expectations we can’t expect him to change the world in three years.”

Hooked on the High

Return to Young Voter Portraits

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Frances Eagleman permalink
    November 18, 2009 12:18 pm

    Way to go Ash!! Nice writing, Tetona!

  2. Dee Dee permalink
    November 25, 2009 12:00 pm

    Great article! It’s uplifting to see the young adults in our country participate in the government processes. We always say “children are our future”, but many times we don’t care for their input, and now it seems that they are picking up the torch and representing themselves in a new light. It seems that they are saying “we are no longer the future…we are present and a moving force for change!” Thank you for the article and thank you Ashley for the insight into your world! Well written and well spoke!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: