#NativeVote16 – Making climate change an election issue



Twitter post from  Nov 29  This morning Indigenous people gathered to offer a sunrise ceremony before the start of the COP21.  

On Facebook the Indigenous Environmental Network is posting regularly from the Paris conference. A recent post said: “Yesterday, on November 29th the Indigenous Environmental Network organized a healing ceremony in front of the Bataclan theater before thousands gathered to participate in a human chain action in the streets of Paris. 

“It was a beautiful ceremony featuring Indigenous youth speakers from North America, the arctic, and the pacific islands. Our delegations always see it as a necessity to have prayer before any large action. We offered kind words, song, and calls for climate justice and peace.”


How much will climate change cost?

It’s a budget line that will have to grow fast




The world’s leaders are in France over the next couple of weeks to debate what ought to be done about climate change. Organizers say the United Nations Conference on Climate Change is “crucial because the expected outcome is a new international agreement on climate change, applicable to all, to keep global warming below 2°C.” Any deal would be based on a nation by nation approach, so it would be up to each country to figure out how to reach their own climate goals.

That’s the word from the United Nations. But in the United States, climate change, or global warming, highlight a deep political division between most Democrats and most Republicans. The conservative National Review put it this way: “Republicans have already made it clear that the Senate will not ratify any agreement Obama makes requiring either steep, economy-killing, greenhouse-gas emission reductions or climate payoffs to developing countries.”

What if we could vote on the choices ahead? What if climate change (and the alternative courses) could be presented on a ballot? Unfortunately that’s not likely to happen because of the politics of geography. Geography trumps politics: Some of the Republicans facing re-election in states like Maine or Illinois are closer to the Obama administration than their own party. And, in states like Alaska, Montana, and North Dakota, there are few Democrats keen on a climate referendum. Most Democrats in energy states run on the pretense that the country doesn’t have to make hard decisions about jobs and the environment.

Take the Keystone XL pipeline debate as an example. A story in The Montana Standard said Montana’s two most prominent Democrats, Governor Steve Bullock and U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, were unhappy with President Barack Obama’s recent decision to deny a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline. “I’m disappointed with the President’s decision. After dragging his feet for years on the Keystone pipeline, the president missed an opportunity to strengthen America’s energy security,” Tester said. “This decision prevents more good-paying Montana jobs and ensures that we continue to do business with hostile countries in the Middle East.”

But as the president pointed out the United States cannot lead the world on climate change issues and develop projects such as Keystone XL. “Now, the truth is, the United States will continue to rely on oil and gas as we transition — as we must transition — to a clean energy economy,” the president said. “That transition will take some time.  But it’s also going more quickly than many anticipated.  Think about it.  Since I took office, we’ve doubled the distance our cars will go on a gallon of gas by 2025; tripled the power we generate from the wind; multiplied the power we generate from the sun 20 times over.  Our biggest and most successful businesses are going all-in on clean energy.  And thanks in part to the investments we’ve made, there are already parts of America where clean power from the wind or the sun is finally cheaper than dirtier, conventional power.”

The president said Monday the United States is ready to lead on climate change and called for a 32 percent reduction in U.S. carbon emissions by 2030.

But while wind and solar power continue to grow, so does the production of oil and gas. A recent op-ed by Sen. Jim Inhofe in The Tulsa World pointed out that oil production is now 97 percent higher in Oklahoma than it was just five years ago. Inhofe is right: During Obama’s watch, the United States has become OPEC used to be, the world’s largest oil and natural gas producer.

Inhofe is a consistent critic of climate change action. The Washington Post reported that he may attend the Paris talks as a “one-man truth squad.”

On the Senate floor Inhofe called the UN meetings “an upcoming international spectacle” and “we should not only be questioning the science but also the intentions and promises each country is making.” He said the president could not commit the United States to any action because “not only does the president not have the backing of the U.S. Senate and the American people, but outside groups are finding that the president’s method to achieve these reductions through climate regulations – primarily the Clean Power Plan – is faulty.”

But the debate in Congress — and in Paris, for that matter — is mostly about the science of human contributions to global warming. Tribes and Alaska villages face a different problem: the actual, on the ground, impacts of climate change.

Last February, Interior’s Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn testified that tribes are already experiencing “the impacts of a changing climate including drought, intensifying wildfires, changes in plants and animals important to subsistence and cultural practices, impacts to treaty and trust resources, and coastal erosion and sea level rise.”

Washburn said climate change will be costly, some $50.4 million (a $40.4 million increase over 2015) for science, infrastructure and other costs that will be required.

“Tribal lands, particularly in the West, on the Coasts, and in Alaska, are on the frontline of climate change, yet many of these communities face immense challenges in planning and responding to the far-reaching impacts of climate change on infrastructure, economic development, food security, natural and cultural resources, and local culture,” Washburn said. “Some communities are already experiencing increasingly devastating storms, droughts, floods, sea-level rise, and threats to subsistence resources. Strengthening access to information and resources, including technical and financial assistance to address the combined and cumulative effects, are among the highest priorities for supporting climate change adaptation and resilience. Examples of projects that may be funded include training, studies, scenario planning, natural resource and infrastructure projects, public awareness and outreach efforts, capacity building, and other projects.”

This kind of spending will not be an easy sell to a Congress that wants to dismiss climate change as wacky science. But extreme weather will not be so easily shunted aside. States At Risk, a new report says states (and therefore tribes) are not ready for the risks associated with climate change.

“Extreme weather will be even more extreme in the future and preparedness plans that fail to take this into account will fall short, perhaps tragically so,” the report found. “As put by the nation’s top climate science agency, NOAA, ‘…communities would be well-served to look beyond the range of past extreme events to guide future resiliency efforts.’ Failing to prepare today will only increase response and recovery costs tomorrow. Since the 1980’s, $1 billion disasters in the U.S. have nearly tripled, from from fewer than three a year to more than eight, adjusted for inflation.”

This is how the election debate will change — even in pro-energy states. First, start with the idea that the number of jobs is already shrinking because of inexpensive oil, so it will be much easier to be critical of industry (both for companies’ environmental and safety practices). And, second, there is now the growing issue of cost. Climate change is going to be expensive and the impact of extreme weather is a cost that taxpayers cannot avoid. No matter what happens in Paris.

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


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Chart via Whitehouse.gov

#NativeVote16 – Charting the election via social media

Screen Shot 2015-11-29 at 1.31.23 PMAt least once a month I am charting hashtag #NativeVote16 on social media. Who’s saying what on Twitter? Interactive chart:


My goal is to track the interest of Native American voters over a longer period of time (mostly via Twitter).



#NativeVote16 – Plan for next few weeks





A holiday weekend update, housekeeping.

My plan is to produce a book in January that will serve as a guide to the elections for Indian Country. The rough outline is posted above, but I am refining a couple of the chapters. One thought: If I can find a sponsor of some kind, I could make the publication free. That will certainly easily work with an online edition, and, perhaps I can  find a way to give away free copies at major conferences.

Also new material today. My latest social media graphic, looking at traffic for #NativeVote16. The goal of this project is to measure interest in the election from those using #NativeVote16 hashtag.

Finally, posting later today, this week’s column. I am writing about climate change as an election issue.

Thanks for reading. Thanks for sharing. And please send election ideas my way.







#NativeVote16 -Indian Country wins with more representation in the states

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WHERE NATIVE AMERICANS HOLD STATE OFFICE:  Some seventy-plus elected to state legislatures in 17 states. This map and an interactive spreadsheet will be updated often. Let me know who’s missing. Information was compiled from the National Conference of State Legislatures, State caucus reports, news sources, and candidate profiles.


Who will be Indian Country’s Barack Obama? She’s probably already elected to a state office


At least 73 American Indians, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians serve in 17 state legislatures. This is important for a couple of reasons. First, if you look at the body of work of these state senators and representatives, you’ll find them advocating for better services, more funding and improving relationships between tribal nations and state governments. Second, state offices are a source of talent for higher elective posts, ranging from Congress to the White House. Remember it was in only 1996 when Barack Obama was elected to the Illinois state Senate.

Montana best demonstrates the growing influence of Native American voters.

Denise Juneau, the state’s superintendent of public instruction, is currently running for the U.S. House of Representatives. She’s a member of the Mandan and Hidatsa Tribes and grew up in Browning, Montana, in the Blackfeet Nation. Juneau has a political track record. She’s already won two state-wide contests so she knows what it takes to win a House seat. This is how U.S. politics often works: A candidate wins at the state level, does a good a job, and then she moves on to Congress (or is appointed to a federal post, such as Secretary of Education).

The Montana story is richer than Juneau alone. Some twenty years ago, Montana was much like any other state with a significant Native American population with only one or two Native Americans serving in the legislature. Then Native American candidate won in 1997. And again in 2003. And by 2007 Native Americans in Montana reached ten seats in the legislature; representing 6.6 percent of that body. Montana’s population is 7.4 percent Native American. Today there are 3 Native Americans in the Senate and 5 in the House, some 5.3 percent of the state legislature.

To put the Montana percentage in national terms: If Congress were 5.3 percent Native American, there would be 5 U.S. Senators and 21 members of the House. Even if you adjust for population, the number of Native American members of Congress would have to more than double to equal the representation in Montana. It’s telling that when Brookings Institution researched the historical demographics for members of Congress it did not even bother to measure Native Americans. There are two tribal members currently serving in Congress and, so far, this election season, there are at least seven Native American candidates for Congress.


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The Montana model

Why is Montana the model? Hard work. Good candidates. And, litigation to enforce the Voting Rights Act.

Montana had a long history of disenfranchising Native American voters. According to a voting history from the American Civil Liberties Union, a Montana 1932 law said only “taxpayers” could vote, wiping out potential voters on reservations. Another law banned polling places on reservations. The ACLU said: “The suit Windy Boy v. County of Big Horn, challenged at-large elections for the three member County Commission of Big Horn County, Montana, and two smaller school districts in the county which shared a common board of education, as diluting American Indian voting strength. … At the time the complaint was filed in 1983, no Indian, despite the fact that Indians were 41 percent of the voting age population, had ever been elected to the county commission or the school board.”

Even though Montana represents many of the best practices in Native American participation, there remain challenges such as opening more satellite voting stations on reservations. This is important in Montana because the distance between a reservation community and a county seat could be more than a hundred miles roundtrip.

There are two other reasons why the Native American electoral experience in Montana is different.

First, the 2004 election of Brian Schweitzer as governor was a game changer. “Never in Montana’s history has an entire Administration reached out to Indians to ensure they were acknowledged, respected, and most importantly, included,” Schweitzer wrote in a 2012 report to the tribes, “Promises Made, Promises Kept.” During those eight years more than 250 “First Montanans” were appointed to boards, councils, commissions and state offices, including many firsts, such as appointments to the Fish and Wildlife commission, athletic commission, building code council and health-related boards. These offices made it clear to the citizens of Montana that the state’s Native American communities were a part of the body politic instead of being relegated to a “special interest.”

A second reason, and a success story, is the community organizing work of Western Native Voice. Leading up to the 2012 election, Western Native Voice set a goal of registering 3,000 Native Americans for the primary and 5,000 for the general elections. Western Native Voice exceeded that goal by some 1,300 additional voters.

The track record of Montana Native American legislators is pretty good. According to the Montana Budget and Policy Center, this past session produced a number of innovative laws, including Medicaid expansion (a financial boost to the Indian health system) as well as laws that will improve funding for tribal colleges, support tribal languages, and streamline Indian business ventures. The record of Native American legislators was not 100 percent, but it’s likely that during the next session many of the ideas that failed to pass will be back on the agenda.

Next door to Montana, in Wyoming, there is an example of what happens when Native American voters are not organized to turn out and vote.

W. Patrick Goggles, an Arapaho, served in the legislature for a decade representing Ethete on the Wind River Reservation. “I have been able to work with the legislature for the new construction of schools,” Goggles told Wyoming Public Radio, as well as “work with the health programs and human services to insure that contracts with the tribes were  in place” and negotiate tax agreements that impact the reservation community.

However in 2014 Goggles chose not to run again. In the election that followed, he was replaced by Jim Allen, a Republican non-Indian rancher. Andrea Clifford, Goggles’ niece, lost the election by 130 votes — and in a district where 65 percent of the voters are Native American. This is the classic example of a low turn-out election because Allen received fewer votes in 2014 than he did winning in 2012.

The state with the largest number of Native American legislators is Oklahoma with 14. It’s also the only state with a balance between Democrats and Republicans (8 Democrats and 6 Republicans). To put that number in perspective: Nationally of the 70 elected Native Americans in state legislatures, 58 are Democrats and 12 are Republicans.

It’s also worth noting that tribes in Maine have three automatic delegates to the legislature. The offices are similar to delegates to Congress from the District of Columbia and other U.S. Territories. The practice began in 1823. The Maine tribal delegates can serve on committees but cannot vote. According to a Maine legislative history: There was an attempt in 1939 to change delegate system and two years later the legislature “ousted the Indians entirely from the Hall of the House, their status being reduced to little better than state paid lobbyists. Since 1965, a gradual change for the better has occurred. Salaries and allowances have increased, and seating and speaking privileges were restored in 1975 , after a lapse of thirty-four years.”

Across the country it’s clear that Native American representation before state governments significantly trails the population of American Indians, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians. There are 40 members serving in Alaska House and 20 in that state Senate. Yet only five Alaska Natives represent in the House — or 12.5 percent — and two in the Senate. Yet Alaska has the highest voting age population of Native Americans in the country, some 17 percent.

The growth of Native American voters — and elected officials — is only the beginning of a trend. We know our population is growing faster than the general population. And in many states there is already the number of voters required to build a winning election coalition that includes the Native community.

Most of the action in the decade ahead will be at the state level. If you look at the list of some seventy elected state officials it’s clear that there is a wealth of talent such as Alaska’s Sam Kito III or South Dakota’s Kevin Killer. Look across the country and you will see why the Native Americans who are serving now in state legislatures are the next generation of leaders in the Congress — and even the White House.

So if you want to know who will be Indian Country’s Barack Obama, look to the states. Her name will be Paulette Jordan, Peggy Flanagan or Denise Juneau.


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

#NativeVote16 – updated spreadsheet and map of Natives elected at state level



Three spreadsheets (and maps from Fusion Tables).

  1. List of Native Americans elected to office at state level. I still need a few tribes and I’ll start building photo files so we can see everyone. Here is the link. (I also will break out pins by Red and Blue for party affiliation.) Spreadsheet is here.
  2.  List of Native American candidates for Congress. Should anyone else be on this list? Here is that link.
  3. And the very rough first draft of a spreadsheet of those elected to represent at the city, county and school board levels. I need a lot more names and data on this page. Link here.

Feel free to send information to me at mntrahant@mac.com

Thank you.


#NativeVote16 – Let’s crowdsource this list of names of elected officials for county, city, school boards

Randy Ramos was recently elected to the Spokane City Council.


I am crowdsourcing a list of local offices: City, county, school boards.

I’ve started with information sent to me by Yvette Joseph (thank you).

Let’s get a comprehensive list. If you know of someone who should be on this list, please send me the information. Like the other two lists, I will geocode and we will make this an interactive map.

email: mntrahant@mac.com


#NativeVote16 – Draft spreadsheet of elected Native officials

This chart is not finished. I need add a location to every name so that I can geocode and make the map. I also don’t have every person’s tribal affiliation, photograph, and links to their web sites.

But …

I thought I would post now so that people can send me more names. Once this chart is completed, I will work on a similar list for mayors, city councils and school boards.

I should note: The primary source for state legislative offices is the Native American Caucus of the National Conference of State Legislators.

Native American elected officials 2015 –

Senator John McCoy, D-Tulalip, from Washington state.


Thanks. Mark



#NativeVote16 – Press release: Nisqually Leaders Applaud President Obama’s Honoring of Billy Frank, Jr.


Fish Wars
Billy Frank, Jr.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                   


Nisqually Leaders Applaud President Obama’s Honoring of Billy Frank, Jr.


NISQUALLY, WA (11/16/15)—Leaders of the Nisqually Indian Tribe rejoiced at today’s naming of Billy Frank Jr., late Nisqually tribal leader, as one of 17 recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the Nation’s highest civilian honor, presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors. The awards will be presented at the White House on November 24th.

President Obama said, “I look forward to presenting these 17 distinguished Americans with our nation’s highest civilian honor. From public servants who helped us meet defining challenges of our time to artists who expanded our imaginations, from leaders who have made our union more perfect to athletes who have inspired millions of fans, these men and women have enriched our lives and helped define our shared experience as Americans.”

The President’s announcement said, “Billy Frank, Jr. was a tireless advocate for Indian treaty rights and environmental stewardship, whose activism paved the way for the “Boldt decision,” which reaffirmed tribal co-management of salmon resources in the state of Washington. Frank led effective “fish-ins,” which were modeled after sit-ins of the civil rights movement, during the tribal “fish wars” of the 1960s and 1970s. His magnetic personality and tireless advocacy over more than five decades made him a revered figure both domestically and abroad. Frank was the recipient of many awards, including the Martin Luther King, Jr. Distinguished Service Award for Humanitarian Achievement. Frank left in his wake an Indian Country strengthened by greater sovereignty and a nation fortified by his example of service to one’s community, his humility, and his dedication to the principles of human rights and environmental sustainability.”

Nisqually Tribal Chairman Farron McCloud said, “Billy Frank, Jr. was one of the greatest leaders in the history of the Pacific Northwest. His roots ran deep in our tribal heritage and his charisma, courage, vision and heartfelt connection with the land and the natural resources  he loved so dearly inspired people near and far for many years. His legacy will live on for generations and the benefits of his life’s work will be felt forever. Speaking on behalf of the entire Nisqually Tribe, I thank President Obama for remembering our great leader with this magnificent honor.”

William Frank, III,  son of Billy Frank, Jr. and Vice Chairman of the Nisqually Tribe, said, “My Dad was a man who won many awards and honors, and he would have been humbled by this great honor. But all the great things he did, throughout his life, were done for the good of his people and for the living heritage of our ancestors. He stood up, tall and strong, against the oppression our people faced, and went to jail for it many times. He served in the Marine Corps in the Korean War, then came back to fight again. He fought so our people could maintain the lifestyle we have known for thousands of years. Then he fought to bring us together, to establish true cooperation with other governments for the benefit of the salmon, so they will be here for future generations. My Dad was a warrior. He was a wise and gifted leader. He was a fisherman.”

Billy Frank, Jr. was born in 1931 to Willie and Angeline Frank on March 9, 1931, at Nisqually. He passed away from natural causes, also at Nisqually, on May 5, 2014. Among his many achievements he had served as Chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission for more than 30 years.

Other recipients of the Medal of Freedom announced today include baseball great Yogi Berra (posthumous), public servant Bonnie Carroll, Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm (posthumous), music producer Emilio Estefan, singer Gloria Estefan, Congressman Lee Hamilton, space pioneer Katherine G. Johnson, baseball great Willie Mays, Senator Barbara Mikulski, conductor Itzhak Perlman, former EPA Director William Ruckelshaus, theater composer Stephen Sondheim, film director Steven Spielberg, singer Barbra Striesand, singer James Taylor, and civil rights leader Minru Yasui (posthumous).


#NativeVote16 – Press Release from Victoria Steele in Arizona


In a country deeply divided on almost every issue, most Americans agree on one thing: Congress isn’t helping us.

Congress’s approval rating is embarrassing. But I do not need polls to tell me that Americans want their elected officials in Washington to work for us. Instead, they mostly do nothing or the wrong thing.

Lawmakers in Washington are passing more blame than bills in this current do-nothing Congress and the partisan gridlock just seems to be getting worse

Congress is broken and it is time for a change!

Chip in to my campaign today and help us get our message out on the critical issues that affect Arizona working and middle class families.

From the beginning, this campaign has been about bringing change to Congress. Times are tough in Arizona, and working people are struggling every day to pay their bills, afford tuition, and save for retirement. Our representatives in Congress must focus more on helping the people who elect them and less on helping the special interests and themselves.

Congress has failed on its promise to create jobs, reduce our national debt, and fix our crumbling infrastructure. It is business as usual in Washington.

We want change!

Please consider a donation today of $250, $100, $50, $25 or another amount you are comfortable with to fuel a campaign that will focus on Arizona families, not Washington lobbyists and Wall Street executives.

With your help we can win this race.

Very respectfully,


Victoria Steele for Congress

http://www.victoriasteeleforcongress.com/ www.VictoriaSteeleforCongress.com

#NativeVote16 – Housekeeping notes: Reworking blog framework, readership and more


Behind the scenes. More housekeeping to start the week.

I am working on a few changes to TrahantReports.com

First, I am adding a new page for press releases and other election-related material. My idea is to make Trahant Reports a catch all for anything related to politics and Indian Country. 

Second, I am working on a distinct page just for spreadsheets and other data. A Native Elections Data Center. Working now on a nationwide graphic that looks at Native American vote by state and congressional district. 

Third, my blogging software does not work well with interactive features. I like the idea of graphics that are simple and interactive. I am using wordpress.com for the theme and hosting it on GoDaddy. I understand if I move the host to wordpress.org, then I can get plug-ins for interactive features.
Story-wise: I think I’ll start posting a list of ideas to show what’s ahead. 

We’re less than 90 days away from first presidential vote and at the point where lots of candidates for Congress, state legislatures, are gearing up.

— Mark
(P.S. I am still experimenting with distribution methods, a mix of blogging, social media, and working with traditional news organizations. Two of last week’s posts, Denise Juneau and Canadian cabinet will have a direct social media readership of at least 10,000 each. Juneau’s story has 409 shares on Facebook. So far. That’s pretty cool. Thank you.)