By Ron VandenBoom
James Parker Shields is an Indian, but he realizes he is not just a member of a minority group, but a member of an even smaller minority within the Indian community he's a Republican.
Shields, the Northern Plains territory coordinator for the Dennis Rehberg congressional campaign, told the Northern Montana Pachyderm Club Friday that he became a Republican because he feels the Democrats have taken away self-determination and self-esteem among the Indian people.
The seeds of the Democratic Party support among Indians began on reservations, he said, when the first buckboard wagon with the first load of beef started feeding Indians off the tailgate.
"That, I think, was the beginning of the end for our self determination," he said.
Shields said he blames the Democrats for making Indians dependent on social programs, transfer payments, and welfare while taking away self-reliance and self-esteem.
He also accused Democrats of wanting to keep Indians "on the string," so they could continue to depend on them for votes.
He said if you look at the way Indians lived in the old days they were totally self-reliant.
"We didn't ask anybody for anything and we took care of our own," he said. "To me that's what it's all about even today."
Shields told the Pachyderms how as a child the Indians at Rocky Boy would live in one and two room cabins with as many as 16 family members. He said that if one family didn't have enough food and another had more than enough, they would share.
"But I think that people had more pride and self-esteem back then then they do now with their fancy HUD houses," he said.
He also told the Pachyderms about three generations of his family living in frame tents while they all worked in the fields to support themselves.
"Nobody went down to the Welfare Office, nobody looked for some program or service to take care of something they drastically needed" Shields said. "If you didn't have it, you did without it."
"Now we have entitlements," Shields said. "Program, after program, after program."
Shields said he had even run some of these programs during his time in Great Falls.
"And after a while it just burns you," he said. "You see the same people."
Shields said you don't see the kids and the seniors that really need the help, but the same people over and over that don't need the help. He told the Pachyderms that was why he left government service and entered the private sector.
Shields said that the traditional responsibilities Indians once had to care for one another has become convoluted thanks to government programs.
"These programs and services come at a price," he said. "They come at a price to the taxpayer and they come at a price to our self-esteem.
Shields said when the government gets involved in things you start losing track of the old traditions and and what the old helping ways were like.
The younger generation doesn't know what a life without food stamps was like, he said.
Shields denies the claim that Republicans are cold hearted, telling the Pachyderms that "Republicans are all about using what money is spent wisely."
He said he tells fellow Indians to check the record before jumping to the conclusion that Republicans do nothing for Indian people.
"We gained more rights, more of our sacred sights back, and even some of our water that we wanted ... under Richard Nixon," he said. "Democrats talk a good game, but they don't always deliver."