#NativeVote16 – Iowa issue that should be on the table: Self-determination

Screenshot 2016-01-31 09.21.40
C-SPAN’S report from the 2008 Iowa caucuses. The 2016 caucus is Monday, Feb. 1.


Iowa is 92 percent white; state’s American Indian population is 0.5 percent, but that’s not the whole story



The media surrounding the Iowa caucuses reduces the story to one basic theme: Who’s winning and what does that win (or loss) mean for the New Hampshire primary? Lost in that coverage is a thoughtful discussion about issues and policies. So we get political promises that might fit better in cartoons than in governing papers.

My ideal? Presidential campaigns would focus on policy, not the politicians, and the first votes would be cast in states like Arizona, New Mexico, or even Montana, where issues that impact First Americans would get a full airing by all the campaigns. Indeed, we know so many reasons why Iowa should not vote first. The state is 92 percent white, the caucus system favors rural voters and the population of American Indians is roughly one-half of one percent.

But that’s not the whole story.

There are 1,400 enrolled members of the Sac and Fox Tribe of the Mississippi in Iowa/Meskwaki Nation located in central Iowa. And in Tama County, the population of American Indians exceeds 6 percent of the population. Democrats hold their precinct caucus at the Meskwaki Tribal Center. (The Republican caucus is at the Tama Civic Center.)

The Sac and Fox Tribe Sac and Fox Tribe of the Mississippi in Iowa/Meskwaki Nation. Members of the 1,400 tribal community will be among the first to cast their vote for president on Monday night.

There are even hot issues that ought to surface in a presidential campaign. The Iowa Senate last week enacted a resolution to end state criminal jurisdiction over Meskawaki tribal members, essentially repealing Public Law 280. The bill has been sent to the Iowa House. Tribal members have been supported such a bill for several sessions with the goal of tribal jurisdiction.

This would be a great presidential campaign discussion. We all know the United States goes through dramatic swings when it comes to federal-Indian policy. Congress enacted Public Law 280 when the idea was to break up reservations and assimilate tribal people into the states. That policy, of course, was nonsense. And eventually rejected in favor of the self-determination policies of Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon. But here’s the thing: The underlying legislation that promoted assimilation remains the law.
Congress never repealed its termination resolution, nor PL 280, but left them on the books as a legal layer that only causes confusion. That’s why the Iowa legislature is enacting a repeal; It’s ahead of the Congress on getting rid of a failed policy.

This is not the first attempt by Iowa. A similar resolution passed in 2015, but without the force of law. The Tama News-Herald says U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican, and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, told Iowa to act first “before the federal government can act.” And, he told the paper, “A mere resolution that doesn’t have the force of law isn’t enough to allow Congress to move forward on any possible changes.”

The Iowa House will take up the legislation next. And then Congress? We shall see. But it would have been a great topic for the Iowa presidential campaign.

The only candidate to campaign on the Sac and Fox settlement was Bernie Sanders. In September he held a rally and answered a few questions about federal-Indian policy. The Des Moines Register quoted him: “The federal government, the U.S government’s relationship to Native Americans has been a disaster from day one. … Everything else being equal, we want decisions being made by the peoples themselves, not dictated by the government. There has to be a relationship, but at the end of the day I would like to see local decisions being made by local people themselves.”

The Register said Sander’s rally “won an enthusiastic response” and reported a tribal member who said his presence could translate into support on caucus night.

And for the Republicans? I mentioned that the Democrats are meeting Monday at the tribal center. The GOP is at  the Tama Civic Center. One reason for that might be in 2012 not a single person attended the Republican caucus at the precinct representing the tribal community.

Watch for my live tweets on Monday night, @trahantreports and the hashtag is #NativeVote16 on Twitter.

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 – Campaign notes



Juneau kicks off campaign breaking fundraising record

Denise Juneau is a candidate for Congress in Montana. (Campaign photo)

Mark Trahant / TrahantReports.com

Montana’s Denise Juneau has raised more than a quarter of a million dollars in eight weeks in her bid to represent the state in Congress.

Juneau, who is the state’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, reported raising $263,803. The campaign says is more than any previous Democratic candidate for the U.S. House in their first fundraising period. That total is made up of 1,029 individual donors, 85 percent of whom are from Montana.

“For too long, our state’s lone vote in the U.S. House has been cast by one extreme, out-of-touch representative after another – congressmen less focused on getting things done for our state, and more focused on getting elected to higher office,” Juneau said. “I’m running for Congress to change that. My campaign is focused on doing what’s best for Montana first and foremost, with a commitment to helping create new opportunities for working families here at home. The enormous support we have already received from all across our state is proof that Montanans are ready for that change, and 2016 is the year it’s going to happen.”

Juneau also won the important endorsement from EMILY’S List. EMILY’S list has more than three million members and invests in pro-choice, Democratic women running for national, state and local office.

“Denise Juneau is a lifelong public servant who has fought to increase educational and economic opportunities for all Montanans,” said Stephanie Schriock, president of EMILY’s List in a prepared statement that was posted Monday on the blog 406 politics. “As Montana’s superintendent of public instruction, Denise has been a champion for quality schools and for policies that give all students a fair shot. Our country has never before elected an American Indian woman to serve in Congress, and Denise is determined to break that glass ceiling to advocate for women and families whose voices aren’t heard in Washington.”

Juneau is a member of the Mandan Hidatsa Tribes.

Victoria Steele is a candidate for Congress in Arizona. (Campaign photo)

Steele leads in Arizona primary poll

There are new numbers from Arizona and they show that Democrat Victoria Steele is a  strong candidate both for the primary contest and in the general election against Republican Martha McSally. Steele is a former member of the Arizona House of Representatives and is Seneca and running for Arizona’s 2nd Congressional District.

The Arizona Daily Star reported that Steele trails McSally but within single digits behind the incumbent. The same poll shows Steele slightly ahead of her Democratic Party opponent, former representative Matt Heinz. “In a poll of 714 CD2 voters, 48 percent said they would vote for the retired Air Force colonel and a former A-10 fighter pilot compared to 39 percent, a Democrat who represented Arizona’s 9th District in the State House of Representatives since 2012.”

“Southern Arizonans recognize that Victoria will fight just as hard for them as their Congresswoman, as she did for them as their State Representative. If this momentum continues, and Victoria continues to outperform Heinz in polls, as I believe she will, Victoria Steele will be the Democratic nominee to face Martha McSally next November,” Keith Rosendahl, the campaign manager for Steele for Congress, told The Daily Star.

A Democratic challenger to Joe Patookas

Joe Patookas has a primary challenger in Washington’s 5th Congressional District. David Kay, a U.S. Army and Foreign Service veteran, told the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin that he will be a moderate in the race.

“I will not be liberal enough for some. I will not be conservative enough for others,” said Kay, 59, a North Carolina native who moved to Spokane in 2000 with his wife. “I’m running as a moderate Democrat. I hope I will be American enough for everybody.”

Patookas, former chairman of the Colville Tribal Business Council, is making his second run for the office held by Republican Cathy McMorris Rodgers.

New candidate in Arizona’s 1st Congressional District

I’ve written that Arizona’s 1st Congressional District ought to be Indian Country’s top priority. There are more Native American votes in that district than any other. There are 724,868 voters in that district and 23.2 percent of that is American Indian. Four years ago that number was about 22 percent and unless the district lines change, those numbers will continue to rise. Shawn Redd, Navajo, is running on the Republican side of the ballot. The Navajo Times reports that another Navajo, Kayto Sullivan will campaign as a Democrat for the House of Representatives.

“I want to be a voice for the people,” Sullivan told the Navajo Times. “People (politicians) promise all kinds of things, but they do not listen to the people.”

My most recent spreadsheet listing Native American candidates for Congress.

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


Pipelines, rail cars and the price of oil


Could low oil prices help usher in a new era?

Mark Trahant


Second in a series

A few minutes before noon on November 6, 2015, President Barack Obama stepped into the White House briefing room to announce that the Keystone XL Pipeline would not earn approval from the U.S. government.

“Several years ago, the State Department began a review process for the proposed construction of a pipeline that would carry Canadian crude oil through our heartland to ports in the Gulf of Mexico and out into the world market,” the president said. “This morning, Secretary Kerry informed me that, after extensive public outreach and consultation with other Cabinet agencies, the State Department has decided that the Keystone XL Pipeline would not serve the national interest of the United States. I agree with that decision.”

One of the reasons cited was a report from the Interior Department that cited “significant concern raised by some tribes in Indian Country regarding the need for protection of treaty rights and fulfillment of the trust responsibility, protection of sacred cultural sites, and avoidance of adverse impacts to the environment, including to surface and groundwater resources.The Department has also received letters from some tribal nations, particularly those located in the Great Plains region, who do not feel there has been adequate government-to-government engagement with them.”

The announcement was hailed as a huge win for Indian Country.

“This is a tremendous victory for all the pipeline fighters who have spent several years fighting the TransCanada “black snake,” Keystone XL! The President’s decision is a clear affirmation of our struggle to defend the sacredness of Mother Earth and to protect the future generations of all our relatives, human and non-human alike,” wrote Dallas Goldtooth, campaign organizer for the Indigenous Environmental Network. “We celebrate this as a win and a powerful step to the greater goals of keeping fossil fuels in the ground and shutting down the tar sands at the source!”

Back at the White House the president used that moment to raise an analytical note: “Keystone Pipeline has occupied what I, frankly, consider an overinflated role in our political discourse. It became a symbol too often used as a campaign cudgel by both parties rather than a serious policy matter. And all of this obscured the fact that this pipeline would neither be a silver bullet for the economy, as was promised by some, nor the express lane to climate disaster proclaimed by others.”

Oil and gas — and by extension, pipelines — will continue to be built as part of the country’s energy infrastructure. As Obama put it: “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.”

Fast forward to January 2016.

The North Dakota Public Service Commission approved a siting permit on January 6 for the Sacagawea Pipeline Project, designed to move crude oil more than 70 miles across the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation and connect to existing pipelines. The idea is that the 16-inch pipeline will transport as much as 200,000 barrels per day. “This is significant new and important infrastructure in a part of the state where truck traffic has been intense,” said Commission Chairman Julie Fedorchak. “We reviewed this project very closely, and the company committed to high standards of construction, operation and reclamation including and especially in regard to the crossing of Lake Sakakawea.”

That’s right. The pipeline will buried 100 feet below Lake Sakakawea.

One of the state’s regulators, Randy Christmann, said, “The use of horizontal diagonal drilling techniques to place this pipeline over 100 feet below the bed of Lake Sakakawea makes this the safest possible alternative for moving oil from one side of that important water body to the other.”

This is just one potential pipeline. The largest, The Dakota Access Pipeline Project would connect a 30-inch pipeline from North Dakota’s Bakken and Three Forks oil fields to Patoka, Illinois, a length of 1,154 miles.

That’s roughly the same distance as the Keystone XL pipeline project. And because the Dakota Access Project doesn’t cross an international border, the approval process is routine.

Dakota Access Partners, the builder of the project, says it anticipates beginning construction this year and to “be in service by the fourth quarter of 2016.” The goal is to move more than a half million barrels of oil per day.


The Dakota Access Project would transport oil from North Dakota to Illinois. The goal of Dakota Access Partners is to have the system in operation by the end of 2016 and to move a half million barrels of oil per day. (Source: Dakota Access Partners map.)






On January 20, the North Dakota Public Service Commission approved a siting permit. “This project received thorough review which was totally transparent. We received broad public input. We listened and the company listened,” said Commission Chairman Julie Fedorchak. “The permit today provides for a sound, safe project that will provide an efficient and environmentally sound way to transport Bakken crude oil for many decades.”

Indeed, there is an environmental case to make for pipelines. Oil that is not transported through a pipeline is shipped by truck or train. As the environmental think tank, Sightline, reported, the goal of the industry is to ship a million barrels of oil every day by railroad. “If all of the projects were built and operated at full capacity, they would require more than 100 loaded mile-long trains per week to traverse the Northwest’s railway system,” Sightline said. “Many worry about the risk of oil spills along the region’s extensive rail network, particularly in remote locations where emergency response would be challenging.”

Railroad enterprises, like the pipeline, are banking on delivering Bakken/Three Forks oil to markets.

Here is the problem: If the pipeline is built and the train system is upgraded there will be too much transportation capacity at current oil prices. So the railroad companies will have to seek out new customers. Or, as Sightline said, while “the projects are largely designed to transport and handle light shale oil from the Bakken oil formation in North Dakota … the infrastructure could also be used to export heavy Canadian oil.”

The idea of how much capacity — especially given the price of oil — is the wild card in any transportation scheme. Many projects were designed when oil prices were higher than $75 a barrel instead of around $30. Oil is a commodity and traded on international markets. That means it’s subject to the up and down of supply and demand. Currently there is far more oil supply than demand. A report by the International Energy Agency says last year “saw one of the highest volume increases in global oil demand this century, we have long believed that this could not be repeated in 2016. But, with crude oil prices plunging below $30/bbl, must we expect some boost to the rate of growth in 2016? Unfortunately, the New Year has been awash with pessimism about economic growth.”

And that means less economic growth — and less oil consumption. The IEA says that when Iran is fully online selling oil, and if other oil exporting countries maintain current production levels, the demand could exceed demand by 1.5 million barrels a day and “unless something changes, the oil market could drown in over-supply.” So yes prices could go lower.

The way that will impact major projects such as pipelines is that oil companies and those that are in related businesses will need to adjust their spending. Some oil companies have borrowed a lot of money to increase production and now are unable to pay their loans without selling off major assets.

What goes up? Bureau of Indian Affairs expected oil royalty figures to top $1 billion in 2014. Estimate was before the sharp drops in the price of oil. (Source: Bureau of Indian Affairs)

Indian Country has a complicated relationship with the price of oil. So many of our people (both reservation and urban) drive pickup trucks and the price at the pump becomes a daily worry. On the other hand more than a dozen tribes and several Alaska Native corporations are oil and gas producers. So the low oil prices impact everything from government budgets to the number of jobs available locally. The most recent numbers posted by the Bureau of Indian Affairs estimated royalties at $900 million “and within two years, estimates royalty income will increase to over $1 billion.” And as the report projected a billion was likely exceeded as the 2014 price of oil averaged $93.17. But last year that same average was $48.67.

There are other forces at play.

The Paris agreement on climate change sets a target of “well below” a rise of 2 °C, with “net-zero green house gas emissions by 2100.” That means a stepped up transition away from fossil fuels but it’s worth noting that the agreement also recognizes the “unique role of gas and oil.” That will only happen if there is “significant support for mitigation technologies and approaches” and “energy economics and consumption patterns would need to change substantially, and consumers would need to accept these shifts.”

In some ways that is already occurring. One factor that is contributing to the over-supply of oil is that Americans are driving less — especially the millennial generation. (More about that next week.) But it could be that oil prices are low at exactly the right moment, easing our transition to a new energy framework.

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



  • What replaces extraction?

The politics of leaving coal buried deep in the ground



King County, Washington, called for more studies saying the rail system is “not built to handle the weight of mile-long oil and coal trains. This stresses an already dated infrastructure and increases the risk of potentially catastrophic derailments.” Photo credit: KingCounty.gov




First in a series.

It’s tempting to think of Indian Country as a “singular” voice. The vast majority of Native Americans agree that the United States should live up to its treaty promises. Most of us think that tribes are the best mechanism for governing our lands and people (all the while watching a steady stream of our citizens moving from reservations to cities and towns across America). And, we share a deep respect for the land, Mother Earth. Add it up and it shows that if we all vote together, our voices will represent a powerful bloc.

Except, that is, when we disagree.

That should not be a surprise. The phrase “tribal politics” earns an instant nod from folks who understand that Native people have the same divisions — philosophical, tribal, and familial — that surface in any governing structure. Generations ago this was an easy problem to resolve: Leaders who found themselves in a minority, just left camp, and followed their own way. Today tribal people who have different ideas about the future live and work in the community and use elections to determine the governing coalition.

Perhaps the greatest division within Indian Country is the debate about the environment and the extraction of natural resources. There are Native people on all sides of this question and it’s already an election issue.

Earlier this month the Crow Nation announced that some tribal employees “will have to be furloughed for some time during this quarter.” A Facebook post quoted Chairman Darrin Old Coyote saying that “because of revenues reduced by the Obama’s “War on Coal,” we are faced with a shortfall to our operating budget under the general fund. Our Cabinet Head and Directors are faced with reducing their budget to make it through this quarter. We do have funds out there but, will not be available in time. As a result, there will be wage reductions, and other steps taken to make sure the furlough will not last long.”

Crow is rich with coal — one estimate shows a reserve of 17 billion tons — and it’s the primary source of tribal revenue as well as jobs for more than 13,000 tribal members. Last year Old Coyote told a Senate hearing in Montana: “I simply desire for the Crow Nation to become self-sufficient by developing its own coal resources and to provide basic services for the health, hopes and future of the Crow people. With help from you – our historic treaty ally – in leveling the energy development playing field, we can achieve my vision and both benefit immensely.”

Obama might get the blame, but the coal industry has been collapsing on its own. Its use as an energy source in the United States is being replaced by natural gas which is both cheaper and cleaner. That leaves China as the major market for coal. But China is giving up on coal too. A report by Clark Williams-Derry from the environmental think-tank Sightline sums it up this way: “Many folks still believe that China has an unlimited appetite for coal and that the country’s industries and power plants would be delighted to buy any and all coal we send their way. But in reality, China’s coal consumption peaked in 2013, fell by about 3 percent in 2014, and fell another 4 to 5 percent over the first 11 months of 2015. All told, China’s cutbacks have totaled some 300 million tons per year—the equivalent of one-third of total coal output in the US, the world’s second largest coal producer. So while China still has a huge appetite for coal, the country has slimmed down impressively.”

The sharp decline in the Chinese stock market will likely speed up this trend.

But proponents of coal continue to promote plans that would make it easier for coal to reach Asia. Cloud Peak Energy Company has the option to lease 1.4 billion tons of coal from Crow lands. That company, and the Crow Nation, are investors in two new shipping terminals in Washington state. If completed, this would be the biggest coal export terminal in North America and account for nearly 500 sailings of ships transporting coal to Asia.

Northwest tribes are adamantly opposed to the terminal. Swinomish Chairman Brian Cladoosby told The Seattle Times last week: “Coal is black death … There is no mitigation.” He and other tribal leaders say that the project would be a clear violation of treaty fishing rights. Cladoosby is president of the National Congress of American Indians which in a 2012 resolution called for a full, transparent environmental review.  

Then again, as The Times put it: “Burning coal creates pollution that harms human health and the environment. In addition to particulates, burning coal generates more carbon dioxide emissions than any other fuel, implicated as the number one source of human-caused climate change.”

The politics of coal remain a dividing line in U.S. and tribal politics. The Obama administration has stepped up environmental regulations of coal and just last week the Interior Department announced a review of coal leasing on federal lands.

“Given serious concerns raised about the federal coal program, we’re taking the prudent step to hit pause on approving significant new leases so that decisions about those leases can benefit from the recommendations that come out of the review,” said Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. “During this time, companies can continue production activities on the large reserves of recoverable coal they have under lease, and we’ll make accommodations in the event of emergency circumstances to ensure this pause will have no material impact on the nation’s ability to meet its power generation needs. We are undertaking this effort with full consideration of the importance of maintaining reliable and affordable energy for American families and businesses, as well other federal programs and policies.”

This action comes at a moment where there is a worldwide push to leave coal and other carbon-based resources in the ground as a way to hit the UN targets limiting C02 emissions. New data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says nearly 90 percent of the world’s coal is “unburnable.” Coal is considered the most polluting type of fossil fuel.

“The implication is that any fossil fuels that would take us over-budget will have to be left in the ground,” writes Roz Pidcock for CarbonBrief. “Globally this equates to 88 percent of the world’s known coal reserves, 52 percent of gas and 35 percent of oil.”


Source: US Energy Information Administration.

So the tribal bets on coal are coming at a bad time, both in terms of market-prices and meeting international agreements  to reduce emissions. Neither the Congress nor a future president can change this fact. Markets are not going to suddenly come back for coal and the rest of the world has already made a decision about the future of energy.

Of course, the Crow are not the only tribal government or Alaska Native corporation that’s sees a future in coal. The Navajo Nation purchased a coal mine in 2014. And the Tyonek Native Corporation has plans to develop the Chuitna Coal project with the PacRim Coal Company. The village corporation favors the project, while the Tyonek Native village, a tribal government, is opposed because of the mining’s impact on rivers, salmon and the community.

The impact 0f climate change is a huge concern for many tribes. But even before climate change the Northern Cheyenne — also a coal rich tribe — decided on a different route.

During the 1970s and 1980s, the Northern Cheyenne demanded that its trustee block leases with Peabody Coal. Then the Northern Cheyenne successfully set higher air quality standards. According to the Bureau of Land Management: “The Tribe became concerned that, because of prevailing wind patterns, air pollution from these massive plants would pollute the Reservation airshed. Under prevailing legal standards, the powerplant was not obliged to minimize such pollution … The Tribe decided to become the first unit of government in the Nation – Federal, state, local or tribal – to voluntarily raise the air quality standard within its territory to the most pristine standard under law. Specifically, the Tribal Council moved to raise the Reservation air quality standard to the highest permitted by law – Class I – a standard which theretofore applied only to National Parks and Wilderness Areas.”

When I was a young reporter, during the late 1970s, I had several interviews with the late Alan Rowland who was then Northern Cheyenne’s chairman. He joked that you cannot breathe money. He said clean air and water were essential to his tribe’ health. Jobs come and go, but not water or air. When I think back, it’s almost as if Rowland saw the challenges of climate change ahead.

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



  • Oil, gas and pipelines
  • What replaces extraction?


#NATIVEVOTE16 – PRESS RELEASE: Steele to resign from state House seat


After a great deal of thoughtful consideration, I have decided to resign my seat in the Arizona House of Representatives in order to deepen my commitment to the people of southern Arizona on a broader level and focus my efforts full-time on my campaign for Arizona’s Second Congressional District.

This was not an easy decision for me.  A lot of people worked hard to help me get elected to Legislative District 9 not only once, but twice, and I am grateful for all of your support and devotion over the years.  I have poured my heart and soul into representing the people of this district without regard for politics, race, gender, or economic status.  I believe that being a strong representative means working with members of both parties, and I have sought to uphold that philosophy throughout my service in the legislature.

No one does this work alone, and I have had the privilege of working side-by-side with the most amazing Democratic leaders in the State House and Senate.  We fought some good fights and we even won a few.  Most of all, we stood tall together for our shared Arizona values of freedom, justice and equality, and we were a consistent, clear voice for you at the legislature.   

Stay tuned for exciting news on my congressional race in the upcoming weeks.

Together, let’s move southern Arizona forward,

Victoria Steele for Congress

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

#NativeVote16 – Press release: Denise Juneau Posts Record Breaking Fundraising Quarter

For Immediate Release: January 11, 2016
Contact: press@denisejuneau.com

Denise Juneau Posts Record Breaking Fundraising Quarter

Campaign raises more than a quarter million dollars in just eight weeks

Helena, Mont. – Montana’s Superintendent of Public Instruction and Democratic candidate for Congress Denise Juneau today announced that in just eight weeks she has already raised more than a quarter-million dollars in her campaign to bring an independent and Montana-focused voice to the United States House of Representatives.
Since launching her campaign at the beginning of November, Juneau reported raising $263,803 – more than any previous Democratic candidate for the U.S. House in Montana has raised in their first fundraising period. That total is made up of 1,029 individual donors, 85 percent of whom are from Montana.
“For too long, our state’s lone vote in the U.S. House has been cast by one extreme, out-of-touch representative after another – congressmen less focused on getting things done for our state, and more focused on getting elected to higher office,” Juneau said. “I’m running for Congress to change that. My campaign is focused on doing what’s best for Montana first and foremost, with a commitment to helping create new opportunities for working families here at home. The enormous support we have already received from all across our state is proof that Montanans are ready for that change, and 2016 is the year it’s going to happen.”
Of the $263,803 raised this quarter, the campaign has $239,601 remaining in the bank – saving valuable resource for the road ahead. By comparison, Ryan Zinke regularly spends between 50 to 80 percent of what he raises each quarter, mostly on travel, out-of-state fundraising activities, and numerous high-priced consultants. In fact, in the first nine months of 2015, Zinke spent a staggering $1.4 million on those activities – depleting more than 68 percent of what he’d raised.
Denise Juneau has spent her entire career fighting for Montana families, working to ensure that every Montanan has the opportunity to build a brighter future. An enrolled member of the Mandan Hidatsa Tribes and a descendant of the Blackfeet Tribe, Denise is the first American Indian woman in Montana to ever be elected to a statewide office – serving as the state’s Superintendent of Public Instruction since 2009 and winning re-election in 2012. As Superintendent, she has worked to strengthen the state’s public schools, boost graduation rates to historic levels, invest in Montana’s economy and job growth, and help make sure that the state’s public lands remain public.

Short takes: Republicans debate poverty, State of the Union

 GOP candidates for president gathered in South Carolina last week to talk about poverty in America. It was an event sponsored by the Jack Kemp Foundation. Kemp, who died in 2009, was a quarterback for the San Diego Chargers and the Buffalo Bills. He entered politics running for Congress in 1970 and described himself as a “bleeding heart Conservative.” He was no stranger to Native American issues, at one time promoting a tax-incentive for reservations and Alaska Native villages called “Promise Zones.” His ideas never become law but he did continually raise issues about equality within the Republican Party.

So how are Kemp’s ideas received in today’s conservative era?

Well, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan is a huge fan. He helped organize the poverty conversation. In one of his first speeches as Speaker, Ryan said, “There are the millions of people stuck in neutral: 6 million people who have no choice but to work part time, 45 million people living in poverty. Conservatives need to have an answer to this–because we do not write people off in this country. We just don’t.”

The conversation in South Carolina, however, was less inspiring. Candidates promised more of the same bland ideas: Turn more federal programs over to the states (always a problem for tribal governments) as well as rejecting any national increases to minimum wage. And, of course, repeal the Affordable Care Act.

It’s too bad Republicans couldn’t dip into their own history and come up with a program that does meet the needs of Indian Country. There is, after all, a conservative argument that tribes are constitutional governments that would work well with a smaller federal government. That was part of President Richard Nixon’s thinking that helped launch the self-determination era. On top of that: You’d think there would be a better understanding of the constitutional issues regarding Treaty promises. 


TUESDAY is President Barack Obama’s last State of the Union. He will outline his vision for his final year in office. This will be an interesting speech. He’s facing a Republican-controlled Congress, so it’s not likely that any new legislation will be serious. But it will be the ideal time for him to reflect on his two terms in office. Agree or not with his politics, Obama has been remarkably successful. He entered office when the country’s economy was collapsing, the worst crisis since the Great Depression, and fighting two wars. Then Obama has reshaped the health care system, improving the funding for the Indian Health Service, And, he worked with other nations to forge a climate change plan. That’s a lot for nearly 8 years.

Screenshot 2016-01-11 10.23.45

One of the First Lady’s guests at the State of the Union will be Lydia Doza representing the “Generation Indigenous” initiative. The Alaska Native works to get more young women involved in the STEM fields, or, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. One of the cool things she does is teach others how to “code, the tool to write formulas that make computer programs work.

You have to say that Generation Indigenous represents much of this president’s commitment to Indian Country. He really sees an opportunity to improve the lives of young Native Americans and is using the weight of his office to make things happen. Many suspect that this is something that Barack and Michelle Obama will continue to do after they leave the White House.

And that date is coming fast. Next January a new president will take office with new priorities. It will be interesting to see how much of Obama’s initiatives become permanent, such as Indian health funding through the Affordable Care Act to the annual White House government-to-government meeting with tribal leaders. Obama will be gone, but these issues ought to be at least topics during the 2016 campaign from both Democrats and Republicans.

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