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'We are all related': Indian Country turns out for another day of Democratic convention

The first Americans stole the stage before a captive audience during the second day of the Democratic National Convention as they presented delegate votes for their party's presidential ticket.

On Tuesday evening, four Native leaders presented the delegate totals for the states of Alaska, New Mexico, North Dakota and South Dakota. They were part of a 57 state and territory roll call at the convention.

“When Joe Biden was vice president, he and president Obama made sure Alaska’s tribes had a say in how these waters were managed,” said Chuck Degnan, an Alaskan Native veteran, fisherman and Democratic Party activist from Unalakleet. “Donald Trump took it away. We must elect a president who will respect our voices, protect our waters and address climate change.”

New Mexico State Rep. Derrick Lente presented his state’s delegate totals from his home on the Pueblo of Sandia.

“We are all united by the love of this beautiful place that we call home, and we believe that we owe it to the next generation to protect the natural and cultural resources that are their inheritance and to that end also respect tribal sovereignty,” he said.

Cesar Alvarez of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation said he graduated from a class of 44 students and had to drive three hours to take his SAT test before gaining his bachelor’s degree from Harvard University.

“Growing up, I knew that college was a ladder that could take you anywhere,” he said. “Joe Biden knows that everyone deserves a chance to climb that ladder.”

Posted by South Dakota Democratic Party on Saturday, August 15, 2020

From South Dakota, activist Kellen Returns From Scout, a citizen of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, spoke from his people’s sacred lands in the Black Hills, known as Paha Sapa in the Lakota language.

“We often say mitakuye oyasin, we are all related,” he said. “Our next president must lead by this philosophy for the betterment of our next seven generations.”

In 2016, three Native leaders -- Deb Haaland (Pueblo of Laguna) from New Mexico, Shawn Bordeaux (Rosebud Sioux) from South Dakota and former Cherokee Nation Chief Bill John Baker from Oklahoma -- took part in the roll call during the convention.

Before the second night of the Democratic National Convention on Tuesday night, tribal leaders gathered for a Native American Caucus meeting.

The first two Native congresswomen in the country, Deb Haaland of New Mexico and Sharice Davids of Kansas, spoke about the need to vote out a president who has shown nothing but disrespect for treaty rights and tribal sovereignty.

“President Obama was so heartfelt in his interactions with Indian Country,” said Haaland, a citizen of the Pueblo of Laguna. “I’m working my heart out to elect Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.”

Davids, a former MMA fighter, compared the current political battle between Donald Trump and Joe Biden as the last minutes in the last round of an MMA fight.

“We’ve been training for this for generations,” said Davids, who is a citizen of the Ho-Chunk Nation. “This is so consequential.”

Minnesota Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, a citizen of the White Earth Nation, spoke about the power of having Native people at the table where important decisions are being made.

“When we’re there and we’re at the table, you can feel the difference,” he said.

Flanagan also talked about her 40-year-old brother Ron Golden, a Marine Corps veteran who died in March from COVID-19, and she thanked Kristin Urquiza for sharing the story of her father’s death to coronavirus during the first night of the convention.

“What happened to our families shouldn’t have happened, and it shouldn’t happen to another family moving forward,” she said. “Relatives, this clearly is the most important election of our time.”

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren criticized the Trump administration for failing to disperse federal coronavirus relief funds to tribes in a timely manner.

“Tribal government should not have been forced to wait weeks for desperately needed funds,” she said.

And she blasted the Trump administration for disestablishing the reservation of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe in her state of Massachusetts. The termination-like action, decried across Indian Country, is the subject of ongoing litigation.

“This should not have happened at all,” said Warren, who has been criticized for claiming Native heritage. “With Joe Biden in office, Indian Country will not need to worry about that kind of disrespect any longer. He stands with Indian Country.”

Paulette Jordan, a citizen of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe who is running for a U.S. Senate seat in Idaho, said it is important to ensure the voices of Native youth are included in discussions about Native issues. She introduced three Native youth during a panel discussion Tuesday night.

They included Samuel Lopez of the Tohono O’odham Nation, who spoke about the need to ensure Native youth have access to transportation in order to vote and are given information about how voting works and the positions of political candidates.

“It starts in the home and then it starts in the community and then it starts in the nation,” he said.

President Jonathan Nez of the Navajo Nation was among 17 party activists who took turns remotely delivering the keynote address at the DNC. He attended the 2016 convention as a delegate, when he was serving as vice president of his tribe.

“Let’s get real,” Nez said during his portion of the keynote address Tuesday night. “There’s a lot riding on this election.”

Nez's vice president, Myron Lizer, has worked with Republicans in recent months. He met with President Trump for a Native roundtable in Phoenix, Arizona, on May 5, advocating for the release of COVID-19 relief to tribal governments. Just last week, he welcomed Vice President Mike Pence to Phoenix.

“When there is a chance to speak face-to-face with White House leadership, it is a prime opportunity for the Navajo Nation to have our voice heard and to strengthen our government-to-government partnership,” said Lizer, who also attended a Trump rally in Phoenix in June.

The Native American Caucus meeting on Tuesday opened on a positive note, with delegates and attendees from all regions of Indian Country sharing greetings and well-wishes through a chat function on the DNC website. But Warren's appearance on the agenda attracted racist and stereotypical comments for about the first 30 minutes.

"Why is Elizabeth Warren claiming to be a native American?" one user wrote. "I’m here for the firewater and the pow wow chow recipe," another comment read.

A flood of negative comments shortly before Warren's remarks prompted the operators to shut down the chat feature, two Democratic party officials confirmed to Indianz.Com. It's not clear whether the function will return in time for Thursday's meeting of the caucus.

"Unfortunately," one party official told Indianz.Com, there were "too many trolls so we had to close down the chat, which is really sad as it’s such a great way to connect right now."

The final meeting of the Native American Caucus takes place from 4pm-6pm Eastern on Thursday, the final day of the convention, when Biden and Harris will formally accept the party's nomination as president and vice president, respectively.

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