Native American Family To See Adopted Son Sworn In

Hartford and Mary Black Eagle adopted Barack Obama in a Native American ceremony in May.
Hartford and Mary Black Eagle adopted Barack Obama in a Native American ceremony in May. (By Marvin Joseph -- The Washington Post)
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By Michael Laris
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Back home in Lodge Grass, Mont., they keep talking about Hartford Black Eagle's luck.

"People around here, even the white people, say, 'You're the luckiest the person in the world. You adopted the president of the United States!' " he said.

"Thank you," is his usual response.

But Black Eagle doesn't see his role in today's inauguration in terms of good fortune. He sees something sacred. He and Mary, his wife of 57 years, were set to be whisked to the Capitol by inauguration organizers early today for the swearing-in, where they will be seated near the center of American power.

The couple adopted Barack Obama in a traditional Native American ceremony in May, when the candidate made a campaign stop at the vast Crow reservation.

The adoption marked an unusually intimate intertwining of politics, history and family -- but one that perhaps seems less jarring in the case of a president who reached today's swearing-in, at least in part, on the power of his personal story and its broader appeal.

Obama's outreach to Native Americans was part of a political strategy during critical primary battles in Western states. Native American leaders, too, want more power to control their lands and lives, seeking policy influence on such issues as coal mining, the environment, and the economic stimulus package.

But an adoption is no slapdash honorary degree or campaign prop. It's a revered compact that has linked the first family with five generations of First Americans. Obama's daughters, Sasha and Malia, beamed as they met their adoptive grandparents over the summer.

Four of those generations of Black Eagles came to Washington to witness their new relative's elevation. Hartford and Mary will have prime viewing seats for the ceremony. She will wear a traditional elk tooth coat, made of deep-pink wool. (The teeth and sinews have gone plastic.) Hartford will don a buckskin vest he's saving for the occasion, with six elegant rows of blue and red beads.

Yesterday, they took a moment to see the sights.

"That's where your son lives," Mary, 74, told her husband yesterday as they glimpsed the White House on their first trip to Washington.

"There are a lot of ghosts in there," Hartford, 75, responded.

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