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Democrats embrace tribal sovereignty in platform for convention






Deborah Parker, a former vice chair of the Tulalip Tribes of Washington, is part of the Democratic National Convention’s Platform Committee. Photo by Indianz.Com

Democrats are poised to support Indian Country on sovereignty, health, justice and other issues as they hammer out their party's platform.

Party leaders and representatives are meeting in Orlando, Florida, on Friday and Saturday to finalize the document. Already, they are calling the process that was used to develop the platform one of the most representative in their history.

"Reflecting the values of our party, the drafting process was open and inclusive, with a series of public hearings where diverse voices and constituencies had an opportunity to provide input and make their points of view known," Rep. Barbara Lee (D-California) said in a statement.

Judging by the draft of the document, the Democratic Platform Drafting Committee indeed embraced tribes on a number of significant fronts. Nearly three pages are devoted to discussing self-determination, land-into-trust, Indian education, voting rights, sacred sites, Native languages and other key concerns.

"We have a profound moral and legal responsibility to the Indian tribes — throughout our history we have failed to live up to that trust," the draft of a section titled "Honoring Indigenous Tribal Nations" reads. "That is why the Democratic Party will uphold, honor, and strengthen to the highest extent possible the United States’ fundamental trust and responsibility, grounded in the Constitution and treaties, to American Indian and Alaska Native tribes."

There is no guarantee all of the language will make it into the final platform. But the draft is already far more expansive than the party's 2012 platform, which contained just two paragraphs in the "tribal sovereignty section" and was not as detailed as the document currently under consideration.

The 2016 draft also includes American Indians and Alaska Natives in sections on youth, income disparities, employment and criminal justice. Again, that's a step beyond the 2012 platform.

Supporters of Bernie Sanders, who was a clear favorite of Native voters in states like Montana, South Dakota and Washington, are hoping to make additional changes as part of this weekend's final meeting. Deborah Parker, the former vice chair of the Tulalip Tribes in Washington who serves on the platform committee, has proposed an amendment related to the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline that was opposed across Indian Country.

If the proposal is adopted, the party's platform would better reflect one of the reasons why President Barack Obama rejected the pipeline. Last November, he said took action to ensure the United States remains a leader in fighting climate change.

Parker's amendment seeks to apply the climate change test "across all relevant federal agencies and decisions." That kind of language would be beneficial to tribes as they fight projects like the Dakota Access Pipeline whose path crosses several states and the Gateway Pacific Terminal in Washington.

Supporters of Sanders are also seeking to strengthen the party's stances on energy development. One amendment calls for a ban on the extraction of fossil fuels, a goal that the Indigenous Environmental Network and other Native organizations have embraced.

Another pro-Sanders amendment seeks a ban on hydraulic fracturing. Some Native activists and some tribes support that goal but other tribes that engage in energy production on their lands want to be able to regulate the practice.

The party platform will officially be presented at the Democratic National Convention. The event takes place from July 25-28, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

The Republican National Convention, which starts on July 18, takes place in Cleveland, Ohio. The GOP has not released a draft of its platform but included Indian Country in 2012, 2008, 2004 and 2000.

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyoming), the chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Committee, is in charge of the platform and is well-versed in tribal issues. The co-chair is Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (R), who has enjoyed amicable relations with tribes in a state that is is home to the second largest population of Native Americans in the country, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

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