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Native Americans bet heavily on the Obama administration, and they’re now expecting a big return. During the 2008 federal election cycle, Indian gaming interests contributed almost $8 million, 73 percent to Democrats. Obama raked in more than $68,000 from the groups as compared to $5,000 for McCain, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

“The reservations went deeply blue,” said Patrick Spears, president of the Intertribal Council On Utility Policy. Spears said Obama won with Indians because he visited tribal leaders during the campaign and told them he supported a “nation-to-nation relationship.”

And now it’s time for the payoff. Spears said he hopes for administration support for tribal wind power projects, dollars for education, and, of course, a Department of the Interior secretary well-versed in Indian concerns.

The Associated Press reports that former governors John Kitzhaber of Oregon and Tony Knowles of Alaska, as well as Democratic Senator Ken Salazar of Colorado, are on Obama’s shortlist for Interior secretary.

Spears, whose council comprises Plains states tribes, is heartened that are all candidates are from the West.

The Interior Department and the Bureau of Indian Affairs will have major influence over many of the Native groups’ concerns. Top among them are expansion of Indian gaming, rules for taking Indian land into federal trust, and increasingly, development on Indian land.

But on the gaming front, it remains unclear whether Obama is more of a friend than McCain, a noted casino fan, would have been. As an Illinois state senator, Obama expressed moral and social concerns about casinos as an economic tool in poor areas — the major argument proponents use to support tribal gaming.

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