By Mark Trahant
Indian Country Today
indiancountrytoday.com Most of the candidates running for president are already on the campaign trail. They’re mostly visiting Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, California and the Deep South. The first votes will be cast in less than a year. The logic here: Iowa and New Hampshire have always gone first. It's the tyranny of, “we have always done it that way.” But the United States is changing fast. And these two states are among the least representative of what the country will be, and especially unrepresentative of the Democratic Party. In Iowa there is one tribal nation, the Meskwaki, Sac & Fox Tribe of the Mississippi, and the total Native population is four-tenths of one percent. New Hampshire is even less so, no tribal nations, and a total population of three-tenths of one percent. One reason this matters: As the campaign unfolds the “issues” involving Indian Country have largely focused on Elizabeth Warren’s identity, her DNA test, and her apology to the Cherokee Nation. And this weekend she raised a new issue: Reparations for Native Americans. When asked whether “they” should receive some kind of relief, she told The Washington Post: “I think it’s an important part of the conversation. The Post said there were few details, but she referenced America’s "ugly history … We need to confront it head-on. And we need to talk about the right way to address it and make change.”
The first time I saw a presidential candidate campaign in Indian Country was Jesse Jackson in 1984. He took the time to meet and speak with the Navajo Nation Council as well as events in Window Rock and Shiprock. He did this because it was the right reason. Now imagine, what if Navajo had a primary? What if early in the process, Jackson won those delegates and the conversation about his viability was matched with the delegates that included Indian Country? Presidential campaigns have already changed candidates. As I wrote in The Last Great Battle of the Indian Wars, Washington Sen. Henry Jackson went from being a longtime supporter of termination to a champion for self-determination and primary sponsor of legislation to make that so (and hiring Forrest Gerard to make it so). He did this about the same time he ran for president. George McGovern wasn’t a strident supporter of tribes before he ran for president. But he was sure was after. Before running for president -- and after -- is a line of questioning that virtually all of the challengers should be asked about. For example: California’s Sen. Kamala Harris needs to distance herself from the positions she took while she was attorney general (not unlike other states’ attorney generals who’ve run for higher office). She needs to figure out where she stands on tribes, treaties, and specific issues, such as land into trust. Or a presidential candidate could pledge to invest in education in a whole new way. Indian Country has an advantage that the United States needs, a young population. This is a perfect moment for education innovation -- and that takes resources. The median age in the United States is 37.9 years and getting older with smaller family sizes. Indian Country’s median age is 31.2 years. But even those numbers don’t reflect the true nature of the divide. Iowa’s median age is 38 and New Hampshire’s median age is 41.4 years old. There are 2.1 million American Indians and Alaska Natives under the age of 24 years old. That is a constituency deserving a voice in picking the next president. (New Hampshire’s population is 1.3 million.) Or a presidential candidate could pledge to make sure that the next White House will use its resources to protect and improve the Indian Child Welfare Act. That law has 40-year history of keeping native families together that’s now under attack as unconstitutional. The lawsuit, Brackeen v. Bernhardt, was brought by Texas, Indiana, Louisiana, and individual plaintiffs, claim the act is race based. How big an issue is this in Indian Country? Amicus briefs were filed in support of the act by 325 tribal nations, 21 states, several members of Congress, and dozens of Native organizations, child welfare organizations, and other allies. That would seem to rise to the level of an issue for presidential candidates. (Warren did express her support for the law at a tribal women’s honoring ceremony.) The list of issues is long. Presidential candidates should be asked about Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and a federal response. Or how to fix the convoluted legal mess of the 2009 Supreme Court Carceri decision that makes a mess of tribal authority and lands. As Jefferson Keel, president of the National Congress of American Indians, said in his 2019 State of Indian Nations a couple of weeks ago, the Trump administration is using the Carceri framework to “undercut” tribes.
NIHB Vice Chairman Victoria Kitcheyan (WINNEBAGO Tribal Council; Great Plains representative) addresses @NCAI1944 General Assembly today. “You can’t be in Washington, DC every day to fight for our People’s health but NIHB is and we DO!” pic.twitter.com/RBPjPfSoVM— NIHB (@NIHB1) October 25, 2018