Rep. Kucinich had one answer for that. He said America has something to learn from Indian Country. He praised the peacemaker court system and other alternative justice methods as something that should be expanded. He called for the creation of a Department of Peace and Non-Violence that would highlight, fund, and promote similar programs. "Take the time to tell them that there's someone running for president who understands their heart, that there's someone running for president who understands their needs,” he said. Gravel had his own answer. "I know how you honor people my age," he said. "And that's why you will support me." Gravel dropped out of this presidential race last week and endorsed Sen. Bernie Sanders. Wow. A dozen years later he is still raising heck on the trail. The then governor of New Mexico, Bill Richardson, called for full funding of the Indian Health Service and the creation of a full cabinet post for Native American programs. "You need to raise these issues to the highest levels to send a signal that other government agencies need to take Native American issues seriously," he said.
TICKET ALERT: Do you want tickets to the Frank LaMere Native American Presidential Forum? Get them now! https://t.co/1XiClpj3fJ *NOTE* Purchase tickets for each day! August 19th and August 20.— Four Directions Native Vote (@4directionsvote) August 2, 2019
Next week in Iowa the Frank LaMere Presidential Forum will raise presidential discourse about Indian Country to historic levels. There will be a national moment when the normal political invisibility that is Indian Country will be exposed. This is important because this country cannot live up to its potential unless it also honors its treaty obligations. And the next President of the United States, Democrat or Republican, is charged with that solemn task. And there have been candidates who got that. In some ways Indian Country seems like an “easy” get. Show up. Find a photo opportunity and claim victory. However the candidates (and their teams) quickly learn how complex the issues are. My first memory of a presidential campaign was a visit Bobby Kennedy made to Fort Hall before the 1968 election. He was not a candidate then, not yet, but was traveling for a Senate subcommittee on Indian education. The stark thing I remember about that visit was that a man my dad worked with had killed himself during the visit. A tragedy that Kennedy noted. He later wrote about that trip and said he was searching for tribal members who were working as teachers -- and found none -- and discovered that there was only one book in the next town’s library that had Indians in the title, “Captive of the Delawares” about a young blond boy being scalped. That election was a promise, of course, one that went unfulfilled after Kennedy’s murder.
The Frank LaMere Native American Presidential Forum continues to grow as more candidates reach out to Native voters. Seven 2020 Democratic hopefuls, plus one Native independent, are going to be at the event in #Iowa. #NativeVote #NativeVote2020 https://t.co/KlFApBTCYt— indianz.com (@indianz) August 6, 2019
Richard Nixon saw the potential from an Indian Country vote, especially in 1972. He sent his brother, Ed Nixon, to campaign in Window Rock on the Navajo Nation as well as Alaska. (Later he wanted to name his brother a special envoy to the state, but the Interior Department quickly nixed that idea.) Ed Nixon told me that he had been to Navajo as a geologist and was already familiar with people when we went to campaign in 1972. Ed Nixon said his brother really admired his football coach, Wallace Newman, and that was why he was so keen on reaching out to Indian Country. He also recalled a conversation with their grandmother, Ruth Milhous, who told the future president that the country had not done the right thing. “She thought we’d been treating them wrong through the years,” Ed Nixon recalled. “You make a treaty and break it, that’s just not right. Make it right. So that was in Dick’s mind, I’m sure, as he went into office.” Ed Nixon died in February of this year. I last interviewed him in 2012.
Washington Sen. Henry Jackson ran for president in 1972 and again in 1976. This is a story that everyone in Indian Country should know because it is about redemption. Jackson was a longtime supporter of termination. He viewed in the context of his background. He was the son of Norwegian immigrants. He saw assimilation as the logical next step, blend in, be American, that sort of thing. He championed termination while in the House and continued on that path while in the Senate. When he was running for president, a number of colleagues suggested he look at the issue again. The argument was “get right” on Indian issues. Seattle physician, Abe Bergman, who often worked in Native clinics, urged Jackson to not only get on the right side of history but to reach out to tribal communities in his campaign. As I wrote in my book, “The Last Great Battle of the Indian Wars,” Jackson reversed his policy. He hired Forrest Gerard as his professional staff member and championed the most significant legislation of the 1970s, the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act, the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, the Indian Finance Act, and changed the very nature of the policy discussions. To me this story is about what a candidate can be, not what they are now. If Jackson ran in the age of Twitter, his candidacy would have been dismissed. Terminationist. End of story.
As the 2020 presidential candidates hit the stage for the #DemDebates, some are sitting down with tribal leaders for a grilling on Indian Country's most pressing issues. #NativeVote #NativeVote2020 https://t.co/BoIqGKFRec— indianz.com (@indianz) July 30, 2019
Perhaps the candidate most knowledgeable about American Indians and Alaska Native issues was Rep. Morris Udall of Arizona. He also ran in 1976. (Udall wrote about his failed enterprise in his book, “Too Funny to be President.”) After one of the primary elections where Udall came up short, he said, "The people have spoken — the bastards." Franklin Ducheneaux, Cheyenne River, who worked with Udall on the House Interior Committee for many years once told me. “He was a great man, I think. I don't know what kind of president he would have made, but he was sure a great man.” One of the first candidates to really engage Indian Country, at least during the campaign, was Jesse Jackson in 1984. I was the editor of the Navajo Times when Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition showed up to meet with the Navajo Nation Council. The reporters came back excited, telling me the reaction from the council was stunning, as delegates rose to their feet after an inspirational talk. Jackson was written off by the press. Why bother? He was reaching out to communities that did not vote -- or at least that was the perception. But he eventually captured third behind Sen. Gary Hart of Colorado and former Vice President Walter Mondale who won the nomination. Jackson earned 3.2 million votes and won five primaries. Jackson changed the narrative in Indian Country.
The Democratic presidential field is a crowded one but some candidates are already distinguishing themselves in Indian Country with detailed policy platforms and by participating in an Indian issues forum. #NativeVote2020 https://t.co/XBMVEnsp1H— indianz.com (@indianz) July 26, 2019
Four years ago the Bernie Sanders team was more engaged than any presidential campaign ever. As I wrote in my blog at the time, Trahant Reports, “You have to give Bernie Sanders credit for elevating American Indian and Alaska Native issues. He traveled across Montana, South Dakota, and North Dakota, and at every stop (as he has been doing for months now) he called for a new relationship between the federal government and tribes.” “The reason we are here today is to try to understand what is going on in Pine Ridge and other reservations,” Sanders said in one stop. “There are a lot of problems here. Poverty is much too high. There are not enough decent jobs in the area. The health care system is inadequate. And we need to fundamentally change the relationship between the U.S. government and the Native American community.” That brings us back to Iowa. Sanders was one of the first candidates to agree to the Frank LaMere Presidential Forum. It’s a conversation he started on the campaign trail four years ago and one that could be amplified by many more voices now.
Media Advisory: National Congress of American Indians to Co-host First-Ever Presidential Candidate Forum Focused on Native American Concerns. Read full advisory here: https://t.co/nBCrxb13jh #NativeVote #NativeForum pic.twitter.com/oHQr5exP0Y— NCAI (@NCAI1944) August 7, 2019
Mark Trahant is the editor of Indian Country Today. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Follow him on Twitter @TrahantReports.
This story originally appeared on Indian Country Today on August 15 2019.