Two Native advocacy organizations, Four Directions and the Native Organizers Alliance, are hosting the forum, which is the first of the 2020 presidential cycle to focus on Indian issues and the first of its kind in more than a decade. Semans, a citizen of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe who co-directs Four Directions, said the organization decided to host the forum as Congressional leaders began drafting legislation to rescind the 20 Medals of Honor awarded to soldiers who massacred women and children in 1890 at Wounded Knee. “After we were able to get that legislation, we thought we needed to do more in order to make our issues heard,” he said. Knowing presidential candidates would be visiting Iowa this August, primarily for the State Fair in Des Moines, Four Directions decided to host the forum in Sioux City, a city of about 82,000 people on the banks of the Missouri River in northwest Iowa. At least three tribes – the Winnebago, Omaha and Santee Sioux – have trust land near Sioux City, which is also home to many Lakota and Dakota people.
South Sioux City, Nebraska, just across the river, was home to the forum’s namesake, Frank LaMere, a prominent Winnebago activist who passed away in June after a lifetime spent advancing Native causes. He also was active in elevating Indian issues within the Democratic Party. His daughter, Jennifer LaMere, said this week that’s she proud to have her father’s name on such a prestigious event. “I definitely support it,” she said. “What an honor to see my dad’s name on that.” Neither of the two Republican presidential candidates, President Donald Trump and former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld, agreed to attend the forum. Former Vice President Joe Biden also hasn’t agreed to attend the forum. Semans said Four Directions invited all presidential candidates to the forum.
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
The forum will feature the presidential candidates sitting on a stage as tribal leaders and others ask questions of them. Indian Country Today Editor Mark Trahant, a citizen of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, will moderate the forum. A different Native elder and a Native youth will escort each candidate to the stage. Each candidate will be allowed to give an opening statement, and questions by tribal leaders and the candidates’ answers to those questions will have time limits. Semans said the event will feature tribal flags from tribal homelands across the country, though he learned this week that that posts for the flags won’t arrive until Tuesday. “We’re scrambling,” he said. “Hey, there’s got to be something. Otherwise, you’re not dealing with Indian Country.”
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
He said the forum will give tribes the opportunity to tell their stories to a larger audience. Semans said he expects many national media representatives to cover the event. “A lot of the non-Indians, if they heard and understood the questions that we’re presenting to these candidates, they would think that it’s absurd that we’re being treated this way,” he said. “They are going to know who we are and the issues that we face like they’ve never heard it before in U.S. history.”
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
More 2020 presidential candidates line up for historic Native issues forum (August 6, 2019)
Aaron Payment: Candidates must understand and respect tribal sovereignty (July 31, 2019)
Tribal leaders grill 2020 Democratic presidential candidates on Indian issues (July 30, 2019)
Candidates make first major play for Native vote in 2020 presidential race (July 25, 2019)