New project: The People’s House: Native Americans, Congress and data

This week I am teaching map making in my reporting class. As I was thinking through how to do that, I was thinking, “I ought to build a map.” What kind of map? Well, it would be cool to show where every American Indian or Alaska Native is running for office. At the federal level, Senate and House, at the state level, legislatures, and important offices, such as city councils or state superintendent of public instruction.
I’ll do this both in map form and build a graphic table.

As I have written before: Congressional parity would mean at least 7 House seats plus two in the Senate.

So … please send data. If you know someone running for office, send me a note, a tweet, or post a comment on Facebook.

Also hat tip to the Indigenous Politics Blog. I liked the data reports during Canada’s recent elections. It’s time to try that in the U.S.

For federal offices, this is what I have so far.


Joe Patookas, Democrat.


Potential. Denise Juneau, Democrat.


Shawn Redd, Republican,


Tom Cole, Republican.

Markwayne Mullins, Republican.

Now a pitch: Send data. Tips, spreadsheets, the works. (Or leave a reply.)


Thank you.


Omnibus: Budgets, a Native voice in Seattle, and eyes on Montana

Seattle City Council candidate Debora Juarez (campaign photo)
Seattle City Council candidate Debora Juarez (campaign photo)

** Updated, Oct. 30. **

Omnibus is a Latin word that means “for all.” In legislation it means cramming everything into a bill that you think can pass. That’s exactly what the House did with its two-year $80 billion spending bill. That bill lifts caps from the Budget Control Act, or the sequester, and it raises the debt limit until March 2017. The Senate passed the measure early Friday morning. This bill awaits President Obama’s signature to become law.

The best part of this bill is that ends distractions such as defunding Planned Parenthood until after the election. The worst part of this deal is that the spending details still have to be written. As What it does not do, however, is push actual government dollars out the door to pay for discretionary federal programs—including major health, education, and science initiatives—after December 11, when the temporary funding measure passed at the end of September expires. Under the terms of the deal, members of the House and Senate appropriations committees will have until that December deadline to choose exactly how to spend according with the broader framework.”


The politics of this deal (and another House action) are stunning, but, unfortunately, probably only temporary. More Democrats voted for the bill than Republicans. So the Leadership picked a bipartisan course. That happened again with individual members who used a parliamentary measure to bring the Export-Import Bank up for a vote.

The Senate still has to weigh in on the Export-Import Bank and there is no indication when that debate will occur or if the votes are there to pass it. Folks who want to shrink government want this international financing program to go away, calling it corporate welfare. Supporters say that the competition is from other countries and failure to re-establish the bank will put U.S. interests at a disadvantage.

Of course any budget that passes with more Democrats than Republicans is considered awful. The new Speaker of the House Paul Ryan said the process stinks. But the bill will make it easier for Ryan to govern his caucus because it takes away the threat of government shutdowns and general chaos. Ryan’s goal will be to unite the Republicans so what ever measures come forward next will be debated within the party caucus and then sent to the floor with more unity. So Democratic votes will not be needed. At least that’s the theory. We will see if it works.

Critics of the spending bill (including those Republican candidates in Wednesday’s debate) say this shows how government spending is out of control. The problem with that argument is the numbers. The deficit is shrinking. What’s missing from the discourse is that the United States has a long-term spending problem. Not a budget crisis. The Congressional Budget Office says, “This year’s deficit will be noticeably smaller than what the agency projected in March, and fiscal year 2015 will mark the sixth consecutive year in which the deficit has declined as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) since it peaked in 2009. Over the next 10 years, however, the budget outlook remains much the same as CBO described earlier this year: If current laws generally remain unchanged, within a few years the deficit will begin to rise again relative to GDP, and by 2025, debt held by the public will be higher relative to the size of the economy than it is now.”

Congressional Budget Office snapshot of federal spending.
Congressional Budget Office snapshot of federal spending.

So the question remains can Congress, can the next president, can the public, think long term?

My goal for this blog is to make it a “for all” place for politics in Indian Country. To that end, I will be posting more press releases, op-eds, and other material from campaigns. I’d like to see a roundup of candidates across the country running in races large and small.

One important race that I have neglected to write about is from Seattle. Debora Juarez is a candidate for Seattle City Council. She’s a member of the Blackfeet Tribe, grew up in the Seattle-Tacoma area, and is running for a seat on neighborhood issues. That means things people care about: more sidewalks, better bus service, and affordable housing.

Juarez happens to be also extraordinary well qualified. This is what The Seattle Times said about her in its endorsement editorial: “In a crowded field, Debora Juarez stands out. She has lived in the district for 25 years while building an impressive résumé as a legal-aid lawyer, a King County judge, a Native American affairs adviser for two governors and a Wall Street investment adviser. She currently is counsel for Northwest tribes in a respected law firm and is a member of the Blackfeet tribe. She would bring intellectual rigor and ideological independence to the council.”

It doesn’t get any better than this.

Of course great candidates make all the difference in elections. They bring experience and poise to the campaign. That’s why so many eyes are watching Montana right now. The only Native American to hold a statewide office, Denise Juneau, is considering a run for the U.S. House. She’s currently Montana’s Superintendent of Public Instruction and a member of the Mandan and Hidatsa Tribes. She grew up in Browning on the Blackfeet Reservation.

Two years ago there was a lot of interest in Juneau running for an open U.S. Senate seat. I thought it would have been an interesting race, but it would have been a long shot. The problem is the type of voters Juneau would need only vote in presidential election years and that race would have been a low-turnout election. So she opted to stick with the job she loves, running public education.

But Juneau is now at her term limit. Her schools’ job will end. And since it’s a presidential year, the House seat is awfully tempting. It’s a  seat that can be won. (It’s how Jon Tester won.) Stay tuned.

Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes.On Twitter @TrahantReports

A changing Arctic presents incredible challenges and opportunities for Indigenous Peoples

Ambassador David Balton speaking at an Arctic Council press conference last week. (Trahant photo)
Ambassador David Balton speaking at an Arctic Council press conference last week. (Trahant photo)

ANCHORAGE — A changing Arctic? It’s a region that presents incredible challenges and opportunities for Indigenous People.

One of those unique opportunities involves governance. The Arctic Council is eight nations who work together on complex issues ranging from climate change to a sustainable future. The Arctic Council met last week as the U.S. began a two-year chairmanship of the body.

What makes this international body unique is that it includes indigenous representation as “permanent participants.”

The six permanent participants are:

Aleut International Association (AIA)

Arctic Athabaskan Council (AAC)

Gwich’in Council International (GCI)

Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC)

Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North (RAIPON)

Saami Council (SC)

US Ambassador David Balton explains: “I am not aware of another international forum that has representatives of Indigenous groups engaged the way the Arctic Council does. They are at the table as, essentially, equal partners.”

Balton said these Indigenous populations “span multiple countries,” except for the Russian organization.

“Officially they don’t participate in decision-making as such,” Balton said, “but the reality is, at least in my experience, the governments will not take decisions opposed by the permanent participants.

Suicide in Indigenous communities was also considered at the Anchorage meetings.

“Political, scientific, and community leaders from across the Arctic have described mental health – especially suicide – as one of the region’s most pressing public health problems,” the Arctic Council reported. “Despite the best efforts and considerable expenditures of our respective governments, the problem of suicide continues to be a barrier to health and development in the North.”

The council has one initiative, The Rising Sun, Reducing the Incidence of Suicide in Indigenous Groups — Strengths United through Networks, explores cross-boundary suicide prevention efforts. The goal is a “toolkit of common measures … applicable across the Arctic, which could expand Arctic states’ capacity to evaluate the implementation of evidence-based interventions to combat suicide.”

One of the issues that’s of particular interest to me involves climate change and “adaptation.” Most of the debate about climate change involves “mitigation.” That idea is humans are the primary cause of climate change so if we reduce our carbon emissions we can limit the impacts. But the second topic in climate change is “adaptation.” That means doing what’s required to build higher sea walls, protect pipelines from permafrost damage, and, all too often, move villages inland because of eroding shorelines. But it also means figuring out how animals and fish will react to the loss of habitat, when sea ice, and plant life disappear. And, of course, less wildlife and fish too often means less food for Native people.

The Arctic Council includes and incorporates “Indigenous knowledge” into its research. As one recent document states: “Indigenous Peoples’ traditional knowledge and its potential to advise adaptation mechanisms across the Arctic is a common theme. Moreover, scientific, traditional and experience-based knowledge in combination are recognized as key factors for a sustainable Arctic future. Generating grassroots support is the most important condition for sustainability.”

How do we build a sustainable future in the Arctic? That’s the key question as we try and figure out how we and our children will live in this changing environment. An idea that should be important to people who live far beyond the Arctic Circle.

Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes.On Twitter @TrahantReports

Press release: Expanding voting access in Montana

Editor’s note:
I have mentioned before that I will start posting other people’s work on these pages. I really want this site to be seen as the place to learn about #NativeVote16

So feel free to send me press releases and other election-related material.

Thank you, Mark


Reservations A Step Closer To Satellite Voting

BILLINGS, MONT. – A group working to strengthen Native American communities praised a directive by Montana’s secretary of state to set up satellite voting offices on Indian reservations.

In an announcement released yesterday, Secretary of State Linda McCulloch directed counties with American Indian reservations to work with tribal governments to establish satellite election offices to increase access to voting and registration if required under the Federal Voting Rights Act, and upon the request of the tribal government.

“We welcome and commend Linda McCulloch’s decision,” said Carol Juneau, Chair of Western Native Voice (WNV), based in Billings. “The directive is a good step towards opening up registration and voting in Indian Country. It fits with our goal to get these offices up and running on all reservations and isolated rural communities for the 2016 election including visible and accessible office locations, trained and paid staff, infrastructure for equipment and internet and proper oversight and accountability.”

Since 2014, WNV has worked with the secretary of state and county and tribal governments for equitable services for all rural Native voters. Juneau is a former state representative and senator who introduced satellite voting center legislation in 2005.

“We will continue our work on the ground to educate and encourage people to utilize the satellite offices in the 2016 elections,” Juneau said.

In 2014 WNV staff and volunteers deployed a robust voter education and Get-Out-the-Vote campaign to complement the satellite voting stations in Glacier and Big Horn counties.

“WNV is also urging strong outreach programs in the communities to notify residents of voting opportunities and availability,” Juneau said. “The tribal governments will play a critical role in assessment and implementation.”

Marci McLean
Executive Director
Western Native Voice

Five lessons for Indian Country from the Canadian elections

Canada’s election was one for the history books: A third-place Liberal party won enough seats to form a government; Aboriginal voters cast so many ballots that in some areas they ran out; and across the country people demanded a reversal of a decade of Conservative policies.

Not that elections fix everything. In Canada, like the U.S., there is no ideal representation for Native voters. One phrase I heard on Aboriginal People’s Television Network last night summed it up well: A lesser of three evils. (Canada has five major parties, three of them with a chance of forming a government.) And, like the U.S., Canada’s elections are not exactly democratic. More about that shortly.

Aboriginal voters appeared to have turned out in record numbers, electing ten Native people to Parliament (up from seven). But if that sounds like a lot, consider this sentence from the Canadian Broadcasting Service: “While there were a record 54 indigenous candidates running in this election, Indigenous people will end up occupying just three per cent of the 338 seats in the House of Commons.” Of course that compares to the United States where the two American Indians in Congress make up 0.37 percent of that body. At least in Canada there are enough Aboriginal voices to form a caucus; there’s the potential to raise voices for and against significant pieces of legislation and budgets.

That brings me to Lesson One from Canada: You gotta run to win.

As the Indigenous Politics blog pointed out there were 54 First Nation, Metis and Inuit candidates running nationwide. The New Democratic Party had the most, 22 candidates, and only two of those candidates won seats, Georgina Jolibois, Dene, in Saskatchewan, and Romeo Saganash, Cree, in Quebec.

So apply this lesson to the United States. What if we had candidates running in every state where there is a significant population of American Indians and Alaska Natives? Start with Alaska’s only congressional district, the seat held by Don Young. I know it’s been done before. But there should be a Native face of opposition running for that seat every election. Same for Arizona’s first congressional district and on and on. Oklahoma. Montana. New Mexico. South Dakota. North Dakota. Washington. Oregon. California. You can’t win without a candidate. Indian Country needs more candidates for key races as well as for some of the unlikely districts.

Just from a tactical point of view the Liberals did this brilliantly. Five years ago the party was all but dead. As a piece from CTV News said in 2011: “Canada’s Liberals were arguably the most successful political party in Western democracy in the 20th century. They are starting the 21st century on the cusp of irrelevance at best, and facing extinction at worst.”

You gotta run to win.

Second lesson from Canada. Yes, mainstream politics do matter. I know, and respect, the argument that Native people should stay out of general politics. That’s there is no difference between any of the parties. Factually that is not true. The Conservative Party under Stephen Harper is a textbook case showing the problem with that premise. First Nations were only “consulted” when there was already an agreement for more resource extraction. If the answer was no, well, that was ignored. And, when there was a widespread demand for a government inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls the answer was a hostile no. The new government will not be perfect but it will be good. And the new government will at least investigate and try to do something about the epidemic of violence against Native women.

One powerful story that Canada has is that of Elijah Harper. More than anyone else the late member of the Manitoba provincial legislature showed what one vote could do, ending a constitutional process that would not have served First Nations.

Third lesson from Canada. Turnout is key. Again, as pointed out often, if Aboriginal voters had voted in previous elections there would not have been a Conservative government. Not voting is a powerful statement. It’s the same in the United States. American Indian and Alaska Natives are pretty good voters during presidential election years; then we disappear. That’s backwards. We’d have far more pull in a low turnout, off-cycle national election. Of course if we have fifty-something candidates running for Congress, that could change for the better.

The fourth lesson from Canada. Elections are not the end of the process, but they do offer a new beginning. The Liberal Party has many strengths but it’s probably not going to be the leader on climate change, stopping the Keystone XL pipeline, or even rethinking energy in a big way. Like U.S. Democrats there is a lot of corporate influence and money that’s directed their way. (I think market forces will kill Keystone anyway.) But all that means is you keep pushing. Elections are only one step.

You gotta keep running to win.

And the final lesson? Canada like the United States needs a better democracy. This election is considered a huge win for Liberals. But they only won 39.5 percent of the vote. The Conservatives had 31.9 percent and the New Democrats earned 19.7 percent. The Green Party captured 3.5 percent — and yet only ended up with one seat. (That’s not as bad as the U.S. where Republicans won 52 percent of the votes for the House, controlling 57 percent of the seats.) The reason for this in both countries is the district system or first past the post. It’s a system that most of the world has rejected in favor of elections that are more representative of all the citizens in a country.

If Canada’s elections, for example had been held in a system with proportional representation, today the Liberals and the New Democrats would be working together to try and form a government. Then that would be a government that would actually represent most Canadians. We can’t have that. It would scare the hell out of Washington.

Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes.On Twitter @TrahantReports

From the Liberal Party web site: Celebrating Prime Minister elect Justin Trudeau.
From the Liberal Party web site: Celebrating Prime Minister elect Justin Trudeau.

Alaska’s reluctant pursuit of justice: The Fairbanks Four

A silent protest in a Fairbanks courtroom. Four fingers held in the air; a quiet plea to end an injustice. The Fairbanks Four. They are George Freese, Eugene Vent, Kevin Pease and Marvin Roberts who were convicted in the 1997 murder of 15-year-old John Hartman in downtown Fairbanks. Some two decades after the crime all remain in prison except for Roberts who was granted early parole.

A few years ago I was in Fairbanks and near sunset Brian Patrick O’Donoghue drove me to a downtown location. The University of Alaska Fairbanks professor, who has extensively investigated this case, told me where to stand and then walked far away and took up a position in the fading light. When he returned, he asked, “Could you identify me?” That’s what had to have happened to believe the prosecution’s case against the Fairbanks Four. A taxi driver testified that she saw “four Asian looking men” in the area of the murder. She claimed to have heard Hartman’s pleas and the killers who she said had Native accents.

That alone is bad. The American standard for justice is supposed to be “beyond a reasonable doubt.” That’s a high bar, one that was clearly not met.

But in Alaska all of the institutions at the time aligned to make sure that these four young men would be found guilty. Evidence was flawed, fabricated and withheld when it didn’t fit the narrative. The jury complied, guilty.

But if reasonable doubt was ignored during the trial phase; it’s been obliterated in recent years. There has been more evidence describing the events of that night. In affidavits and in testimony William Holmes has identified Jason Wallace as the killer.

Even Alaska state troopers say the state’s investigation and prosecution was improper.

The Fairbanks Four case is more than an injustice. It represents the contradiction that is Alaska; a state of extraordinary beauty, many remarkable people of all races, and yet, a deep strain of racism. The original prosecutor played to stereotypes and argued that you couldn’t trust evidence from Natives because Natives stick together.

Formally, the Superior Court in Alaska is conducting a hearing to determine if there’s enough evidence for a new trial. I suppose the legal system sees a need to play out this narrative in a step by step fashion. But that’s just wrong when three men are in prison and all four are wrongly convicted.

In a Fairbanks courtroom last week it was a simple, silent protest by people in the room. Across the state at the annual meeting of the Alaska Federation of Natives there were even larger demonstrations of support, including the raised four finger salute from U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski. Marvin Roberts also spoke at AFN; and he too held up his four fingers.

But at that same meeting Alaska Gov. Bill Walker was asked to use his power to free them. He responded that the young men are getting their day in court.

That’s just the problem. These young men should not be in court. Again. The system has failed. The charges against justice itself mount every day these young men are incarcerated, or considered guilty. It’s long past time the Fairbanks Four are free. And declared innocent.

Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes.On Twitter @TrahantReports

Correction: I misstated information about Jason Wallace. Fixed. More here.

Background for Arctic Council meeting in Anchorage on October 23

Screenshot 2015-10-17 13.37.07

Press conference at 9 am at National Park Service (pre-registration required.)

Summary of the Anchorage meeting, press information. More about the Arctic Council and the U.S. Chair. Last year’s AC annual report.

Indigenous issues

Almost four million people live in the Arctic and one estimate is that ten percent of that population is Indigenous. Greenland, the Canadian north including Nunavut, and the North Slope and Northwest Arctic boroughs in Alaska are regions where indigenous people are the majority of the population.

As author John Warren noted in a report: “the rise of solidarity among indigenous peoples organizations in the region is surely a development to be reckoned with by all those interested in policy issues in the Arctic.”

Six national or international indigenous organizations are permanent participants of the Arctic Council.  For example: The Inuit Circumpolar Council Alaska outlines seven priority areas, ranging from insuring food security to being included in the global conversation. Caribou as a bell-weather for Athabaskan communities and climate change via Arctic Athabaskan Council.

Subsistence and sustainability are common threads in many of the materials from indigenous people. Draft Arctic Council communication plan on supporting and promoting  traditional ways of life. UN Fact sheet on Arctic Indigenous issues. I am also interested in learning more about Indigenous knowledge and property rights. How will this body of law develop?

Alaska and the U.S. Corps of Engineers are exploring a deep water port, possibly in Nome. How will that impact Alaska Native communities, and, again are there new property rights involved?

Screenshot 2015-10-17 16.01.24

Climate change adaptation

There is a lot of material on climate change and mitigation, such as reducing greenhouse gases. But adaptation will be a growing discourse. I want to know more about what needs to happen to protect people and communities in the Arctic. The Atlantic on relocation of villages in Alaska because of erosion. Alaska seeks money to pay for relocation from The New York Times. This is exactly what I am interested in learning more about: How do we get additional money to pay for climate change adaptation, such as moving villages to building higher sea walls.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office has been looking at the problem of adaptation since 2003 when it identified 200 villages threatened by climate change. GAO  in an 2009 update of that report said there has been limited progress and Congress would have to determine “the means and extent of federal assistance to relocating Alaska Native villages.”

This report isn’t about adaptation, but it’s a good look at climate change in the Arctic exploring  the challenges of black carbon.

NASA describes the Arctic as the planet’s early warning system. Most concerning: “In some cases, Arctic systems may be reaching “tipping points”—critical moments in time where a small change has large, potentially irreversible impacts.”


Brookings Institute links development in Arctic, both energy and tourism, with increased resources from Congress for a ice-breaking ships. From the essay: “The United States is considered an “Arctic Nation,” a term proudly used by policymakers to highlight our intrinsic national interests in the region and a profoundly basic yet important acknowledgement that Alaska and its associated territory above the Arctic Circle are indeed part of the United States. Unfortunately, the United States has yet to advance from this most basic construct of high latitude stakeholder to a proactive leadership and investment posture for the future.”

From Russia, an essay about international cooperation in the Arctic. This quote is particularly significant from Sergey Grinjaev: “Arctic regions takes on special significance, and teamwork on its study and assimilation will be strengthened even in the conditions of action of the Anti-Russian sanctions.”

Another area in governance is that of sovereignty and land claims. Russia recently claimed additional territory. I also wonder what legal claims Alaska Natives and other indigenous communities might have as the geography and shipping lanes change.

Congressional Research Service: Background paper on Arctic issues for members of Congress. “The diminishment of Arctic sea ice has led to increased human activities in the Arctic, and has heightened interest in, and concerns about, the region’s future. The United States, by virtue of Alaska, is an Arctic country and has substantial interests in the region,” CRS said. Paper explores a number of issues ranging from energy to climate change. Also explores U.S. Coast Guard declining assets; two of the three polar icebreakers, Polar Star and Polar Sea, have exceeded their service lives. CRS says the Arctic could be an “emerging” national security issue, particularly with Russia’s role in the region (a contrast to the quote from above. A conservative essay in The National Interest also said more military activity will be a part of the region’s future. 

Updated plan for week ahead.

Busy week ahead. Of all things: I’m headed back to Alaska for #ArcticCouncil meeting. (Second trip in as many weeks.) I am going to experiment with multiple topic col, audio post #fairbanksfour #nativevote16 

Turns out I have more written than I thought. Now the goal is to finish two chapters this weekend.