Oregon's nine tribes back Smith re-election 5-15-07

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - Oregon's nine federally recognized Indian tribes endorsed U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith's re-election Monday, saying he follows in the tradition of former Sen. Mark Hatfield and others in understanding tribal problems.

Smith has not formally declared his candidacy for November 2008 but is raising campaign funds and has no announced Republican primary opposition.

Democratic activist Steve Novick announced his candidacy last month.

“Sen. Smith is our neighbor and we know him well,” said Antone Minthorn, chairman of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla, whose reservation abuts Smith's home town of Pendleton.

“He votes his conscience to protect the rights of Indians,” Minthorn said.

She added that Smith has worked in the traditions of Hatfield and former Oregon Gov. Vic Atiyeh, both Republicans, to reverse hardships caused by decades of federal policy.

“He seeks our input. He doesn't vote the party line,” said Bud Lane of the Confederated Tribes of the Siletz. He cited Smith's position on the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.

Several tribal leaders stressed his recent support of tribal health legislation.

Asked about Smith's votes against increases for Indian health services in 2003 and 2004, Minthorn said the tribes are more concerned with what he has done recently.

In a statement released by Friends of Gordon Smith, the senator said he appreciates the support.

“I look forward to tackling more issues of mutual concern, such as access to health care, management of natural resources, economic development and preserving traditional ways of life,” he said.

Edward Metcalf, chairman of the Coquille Indian Tribe, said they had not met with Novick, who has made the Iraq war his campaign centerpiece, but said the tribes are willing to do so if Novick requests it.