Indian Country politics and public policy

Commentary by Mark Trahant

WINNING INDIAN COUNTRY

An irreverent guide to the 2016 elections

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Theme: Democracy is so worth a try

 

One: Ten reasons why every American Indian and Alaska Native should vote

Why vote? It takes planning, some time, and the rewards are not always visible. The same problems will surround American Indians and Alaska Natives before and after the election. Identifying reasons to vote. Examples big and small that show how we can make a difference.

 

Two: What would democracy look like if Indian Country’s voices were included

What if Indian Country had a say in electing the next president? What if candidates had to visit tribal communities and Native urban centers and ask for our vote? What if American Indians and Alaska Natives had sway far beyond the small percentage of voters that our population represents? What if all we had to do to win was to vote?

Forget the question marks. We do have a say, candidates do visit Indian Country and ask for our vote, and we do have more influence than we think. We also don’t vote enough, at least in percentage terms.
Three: Democracy is so worth a try

Let’s be clear: The United States is neither a democracy nor a Republic. The system is rigged. That must change. Chapter explores a counterfactual, what if Indian Country were a part of the Electoral College? As well as the idea of appointing Native delegates to Congress.

 

 

Four: Difference between Democrats and Republicans

It’s often said there is no difference between Democrats and Republicans on issues that impact Indian Country. Chapter examines the two parties both in terms of history and current programs

 

 

Theme: Politics is about policy

 

Five: White House, the Obama years

President Obama has visited Indian Country and heard first hand people’s concerns. He’s met with tribes in a formal, government to government process. It’s hard to understate his interest in federal Indian policy. A look at the two terms of President Obama and its impact on Indian Country.

 

Six: Money in the cup: Health care

Nearly six years ago, on March 23, 2010, President Barack Obama signed into law the Affordable Care Act. The bill also included the permanent authorization of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act. Chapter explores history of Indian health programs, the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, and its potential for better funding for Indian health programs.

 

Seven: The austerity fight is just beginning

It’s one thing to think about “budget cuts” as an abstract phrase. It’s quite another when basic services are eliminated, steady jobs disappear and young people’s ambitions are blocked because college is no longer affordable. When austerity is a national program, Indian Country is hit first. The challenge is to elect candidates who understand this (and mitigate its impact).

 

 

Eight: Climate change

What if we climate policies were on the ballot? Voters could look at the alternatives, weigh the costs, and a solution of some sort would move forward. 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 making 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.

 

Nine: A million lines of code

Rethinking education in the digital age. Chapter explores what jobs are being created and looks how reservation economies might take advantage. Even on remote reservations or Alaska villages this is the digital Native generation. They have grown up collecting more data on their phones — music, Facebook posts, video and photographs — than any other generation in history. They grow up connected to other Native youth across the country making deep digital friendships with dozens, even hundreds of other Native American youth. That’s new. It’s exponential.

 

Theme: Political tactics & strategy

 

Ten: Five lessons from Canada

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. Aboriginal voters turned out in record numbers, electing ten Native people to Parliament (up from seven).

 

Eleven: The People’s House, who’s running and where can Natives win

Denise Juneau has already won a statewide office in Montana. Now she’s a candidate for the state’s only congressional seats. Across the country at least seven Native Americans are running for the House. Look at each of the candidates as well as the districts where Native candidates should be successful.

 

Twelve: Alaska and the winning coalition

Alaska’s story is both improbable and historic. The year started with a three-way race for governor. The governor, Sean Parnell, who has been a zealous litigant against Native interests during his time in office. Then a coalition was forged to elect an independent governor, serving with Byron Mallott a Native leader as the Lt. Gov. This is classic coalition politics — chapter looks at what worked.

 

Thirteen: Indian Country’s Barack Obama

Who will be Indian Country’s Barack Obama? She’s probably already been elected to a state office. And, at  least 73 American Indians, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians currently 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.

 

 

Fourteen: Voting rights: Protecting the franchise

American elections were often defined by who is not allowed to vote. So in 1880 John Elk presented himself to a county official in Omaha, Nebraska, and attempted to register to vote. The clerk “designedly, corruptly, willfully, and maliciously, did then and there refuse to register this plaintiff, for the sole reason that the plaintiff was an Indian, and therefore not a citizen of the United States, and not therefore entitled to vote.” On the next day Elk went to the polls anyway. The same clerk was a judge and again refused to give Elk a ballot. Eventually the Supreme Court agreed. It basically said that Elk had been born an Indian, therefore was not a citizen, and could not vote. He owed his “immediate allegiance to” his tribe, not the United States, the court said. Congress supposedly fixed that in 1924 when it passed the Citizenship Act. But that was a Washington, D.C. idea – and states continued to deny American Indians and Alaska Natives the right to vote. South Dakota, Idaho, Maine, Mississippi, New Mexico, Utah and Arizona all found legal loopholes to prevent Native Americans from voting until as late as 1962. Today that challenge continues as s0me counties and states make it difficult for Native American voters to exercise their right.

 

 

Fifteen: Going viral — when elections are cool

Winter Challenge was a viral video that swept across Indian Country and First Nations. It was a simple: Jump in a cold body of water or snow and then challenge your friends to do the same. And their friends. And their friends’ friends. Until the numbers are huge. What if elections were the same? The prospects are exciting.

 

Sixteen: The road to the White House is red

The changing demographics that make up America. The most important thing to know: American Indians and Alaska Natives are a fast growing population that will be a part of many winning political coalitions.

 

Conclusion

 

Closing essay. What have I missed?

 

Appendix data

Map and spreadsheet of Candidates, elected to Congress

Map and spreadsheet of Elected state legislatures

Map and spreadsheet of Elected to city, state and county offices

Index?

 

One thought on “Winning Indian Country

  1. Palli Davis Holubar says:

    Write fast & clearly. This will be important reading for American citizens.

    Like

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