#NativeVote16 – Cole, Mullin win; Fewer Native voices in Oklahoma Legislature


The only two members of Congress who are Native American both survived their primary challenges Tuesday.

Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole, a Chickasaw, easily defeated his Republican challenger winning  more than 71 percent of the votes cast. “I just want to thank the voters,” Cole told The Ada News. “It’s nice to know people support me, and I look forward to running a vigorous race in the fall.”

Markwayne Mullin, who’s now serving his second term in Congress, had a tougher Republican primary. His opponent, Jarrin Jackson, was endorsed by former Sen. Tom Coburn. One of the campaign issues was whether or not Mullin would stick with a pledge to retire after three terms. He won the primary with 63 percent of the vote.

Nationally there are eight Native Americans running for Congress.

The Oklahoma Legislature did have the largest Native American caucus of any state. There are 19 members in the current legislature. However several members were not able to run again because they reached the state’s term limits. Paul Wesselhoft, for example, could not run again and he was a founding member of the legislative caucus. He’s also a legislator for the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. “The most serious misunderstanding of tribes and tribal government by my fellow state legislators is their misconception of tribal sovereignty,” he said on his tribe’s web site. “They do not realize that tribes want to be self-sufficient and autonomous. Somehow they see this as an attack or an encroachment on state sovereignty. I am constantly educating legislators that both entities can exercise sovereignty without destroy the sovereignty of the other.”

My list of Native American candidates who earned a spot on the November ballot include:

— Rep. Chuck Hoskin, D, Claremore, Cherokee;

— Rep. Mark McBride, R, Moore, Citizen Nation Potawatomi;

— Rep. Cory Williams, D, Stillwater, Cherokee;

— Rep. Dan Kirby, R, Broken Arrow, Muscogee;

— Rep. William Fourkiller, D, Stilwell, Cherokee;

— Candidate Dennis Purifoy, D,Yukon, Choctaw

–Candidate Scott Fetgatter, R, Okmulgee, Choctaw;

— Candidate Sooner Davenport, Independent, Yukon, Apache Tribe of Oklahoma, Kiowa and Navajo.

Two candidates who did not make the November ballot include LaRenda Morgan who posted on Facebook: “I congratulated my opponent Mickey Dollens last night and wished him Good Luck. I have no hard feelings towards him. I don’t really know him but we’ve had friendly interactions anytime we saw each other and we smiled & shook hands last week when I seen him out while I was campaigning. I haven’t forgotten my teachings.” Brenda Golden wrote on her Facebook page: “After having a day to decompress, I wanted to express how thankful I am to have had the support and showing of love by so many people who wanted to see me get elected to state office. It truly moved me and warmed my heart …”

A final thought: Many successful politicians lost their first contest. It takes a lot of heart to run for office, especially when you try and represent so many missing Native American voices.

— Mark Trahant














#NativeVote16 – Sanders at NCAI: Real dollars to Indian Country won’t cost a lot

President Nixon and John Ehrlichman at the Western White House in California.

Mark Trahant / TrahantReports

A couple of decades ago I had a chance to interview John Ehrlichman.  He had been recently released from prison for perjury and other Watergate-related crimes. We were talking about President Nixon’s American Indian and Alaska Native policies. He talked about some of the successes, some of the challenges, and then I asked him “why?”

Why was Richard Nixon interested in Indian affairs? Ehrlichman said the usual story was because of Nixon’s coach, Wallace Newman. Then he smiled. He said another reason was the number of Native Americans was so small. He said the federal government ought to be able to use its resources to bring about real change. (He added that he also liked the idea that it would drive Democrats crazy.)

I was thinking of this moment after listening to Bernie Sanders speak to the National Congress of American Indians via YouTube. The politics of the Nixon administration and Sanders could not be more different. Yet both hit on what ought to be an absolute truth in Washington: You can spend a lot of money on Indian Country and it’s still a tiny slice of the federal pie.

“We need to commit to fully funding the Indian Health Service,” Sanders said. “As I have said in every one of our tribal meetings, the tribal population is not massive. It does not take an incredible amount of resources to meet this obligation. It only takes a president who is prepared to make it a priority.”

This might be one of the  most important statements made during the 2016 campaign. And it’s not only presidents that could benefit Sanders’ thinking.

Republicans in the House and Senate have discovered the Indian Health Service crisis in the Great Plains region. Yet not one solution has called for spending more money  (although there are proposals to reform third-party billing which could add resources). The Indian Health Service budget looks huge on paper, next year’s request is for $5.7 billion. But when you break it down per person it’s less than $2,500 (a little more for those with insurance or Medicaid). And the national average for health care spending is $8,402 per person.

In other words: If the United States “fully funded” Indian health the cost would be roughly $8.8 billion. That’s a big number, unless you consider, the federal government spends about $1 trillion a year on health care.

Bernie Sanders is right. The country should redefine its relationship with its first people. And fully-funding the promise of health care is an excellent place to start.

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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#NativeVote16 – The political drama of Carlyle Begay sort of fizzles out

Mark Trahant / TrahantReports

I have been fascinated by the candidacy of Carlyle Begay for Congress. It’s been quite the political drama: A young state senator who first earned his office with an appointment, wins election as a Democrat, then says he’s a Republican, then he gives up a shot at re-election to his office, to run for Congress. 

What a story. But there is more. In the middle of a campaign, his wife, Candace Begody-Begay says she’ll run for his senate senate post, has to resign her job as editor of the Navajo Times because of an obvious conflict of interest, and then fails to make the ballot because she didn’t collect enough legal signatures. 

Instead of good ending, we’re only at a chapter that sort of just fizzled out.

Monday Begay ended his campaign and endorsed Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu in the GOP primary.

Begay’s story was interesting because it was more about tactics than ideology. Yes, he may be, probably is, a true believer in Republican principles (though in the era of Donald Trump you have to ask, which Republican principles?). He could have tried to sell his GOP vision to Navajo voters running for re-election. My bet: He would have been crushed. Navajo voters overwhelmingly vote for Democrats — especially in a race that’s a contest between one Navajo politician and another. (Previous: Can one family build a Navajo Republican Party?)

So Begay picked another route.

Arizona’s first congressional seat has the most Native American voters of any distict in the country. Nearly a quarter. So by running for Congress, he challenged the status quo (especially within the party). Republicans would have been smart to pull out the stops and back Begay because it would have created a new paradigm: Would Navajo voters opt for a Navajo or a Democrat with a standard resume? It would have been a tough sell, but with resources, and a little luck, the Republicans could have owned this seat for a decade or more. But by the time Begay entered the race there were already a slew of Republicans who had money and the resources to win the primary. So game over.

(To be fair: There are so other Navajos still in this race, Republican Shawn Redd and Democrat Kayto Sullivan, but neither has the experience nor the potential resources of a Begay candidacy.)

Let’s be clear about this congressional seat: It will have Native representation. The only question is when. 

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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#NativeVote16 – The week ahead.

Good morning. A busy week ahead (but first I am stepping away from my political writing for a couple of days to fundraise for Trahant Reports and work on an overdue paying freelance gig.

Trahant Reports posted a flurry of stories over the weekend, so there is plenty of material if you need to spend more time reading.

One lesson from last week: Readers really love graphics.

I keep telling myself that the readership of a graphic is ten or fifty times more than a written report. Last week three graphics I posted pretty much broke readership records across social media. It’s a great form of storytelling and I will work on more of then.

I am happy to report that we have a sponsor for the audio version that’s distributed via Native Voice One (NV1) The weekly commentary is free for radio stations, podcasts, web pages.

Our underwriter is Kauffman & Associates, Inc. I am sorry to say I won’t be in Spokane, but if you’re at NCAI, and a fan of Trahant Reports, please thank them.

One event that KAI is promoting is important. From KAI’s Facebook page: “There will be a special event on Wednesday that we hope you can attend. The Lucy Covington Center at Eastern Washington University (EWU) will hold a reception for tribal leaders at the National Congress of American Indians mid-year conference, at the Spokane Convention Center, Room 303A/B, at 6:30PM – 8PM, Wednesday, June 29th.”

Remember all of the content produced for Trahant Reports and ‪#‎NativeVote16‬ is free use. So share, post, reuse, publish, or even print. I now consider this election to be the Year of the Native Candidate because of the quantity and quality of candidates across the country.

Back to it. Thanks.


#NativeVote16 – Alaska Native success story is an innovation for the states

Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin last week signed S.20 into law, the fourth state in the nation to allow dental therapists to provide dental care. The Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium began dental health therapy in 2004. (Photo from Vermont Public Interest Research Group or VPIRG.)


Just one example of innovation from the Native health system

Mark Trahant / TrahantReports

In the news business, this would be a man bites dog story. That’s the idea that a narrative framework is the opposite of what’s supposed to be. The usual story is that Indian health programs are a disaster and only getting worse. But in the real world if you want to find innovation, efficiency, and ideas that must be borrowed by state governments, then explore some of the many successes found in the Indian health system.

Of course that’s not what we are reading about lately. Most of the news stories about Native health focus on the serious problems in the Great Plains. That indeed is a crisis — and one worth fixing.

But at the same time there are other parts of the Indian health system that are unbelievable success stories.

Consider the data: Just before the Indian Health Care Improvement Act was signed into law in 1976 the average age at death for American Indians and Alaska Natives was 48.3 years. The age at death for White people was 72.3 years. And today? That 20-plus-year difference has been reduced to a gap of less than five years. Today the life expectancy at birth for American Indians and Alaska Natives is 72.3 years, compared to 76.9 for all races.

And that steady progress, imperfect as it is, has been made without the same resources as the general population. Doing more with less is part of the operating framework at tribal health facilities, nonprofits that operate health clinics for a Native community, and, even for the federal Indian Health Service.

The story that still needs to be told is that the U.S. medical system could learn a lot from the Indian health system. The U.S. system is the most expensive in the world, by far, while the Indian health system operates at levels comparable to what other nations spend on health care. Could Indian health use more resources? Absolutely. That’s the frustrating part of the narrative; it’s the option that Congress never seems to consider. (Previous: Paul Ryan’s call for Indian health ‘choices’ would be a disaster.)

So with that context let’s celebrate a success story with roots from the Alaska Native medical experience.

Last week Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin signed into law a bill that licenses dental therapy in Vermont. Therapists are midlevel providers who will provide dental procedures such as fillings and simple extractions. “This is important because there’s a direct connection between oral health and overall health,” the governor said. “Having dental therapists available to work with dentists and hygienists will make it easier for Vermonters to get the care they need, closer to home and no matter what type of insurance they have.”

More than a decade ago the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium experimented with a program to train midlevel oral health providers. It was a community-based program to serve a need because too few dentists were practicing in remote Alaska Native villages.

Almost immediately this was an “aha!” moment as other communities saw this as a smart way to expand dental access. Dental therapy students were hired and trained right out of high school and then were put right to work.

But the innovation was followed by a fight. The American Dental Association sued trying to stop this program, saying that the midlevel providers were practicing dentistry without a license. The Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium fought back and won, using the Indian Self-Determination Act and the Indian Health Care Improvement Act to trump the state’s licensing regulations.

The data today is clear. The program has been spectacularly successful providing routine dental care to some 40,000 patients every year. As the Pew Charitable Trusts wrote: “Evidence is growing that expanding the dental team to include midlevel providers, often called dental therapists, helps dentists build their businesses while increasing access to high-quality, cost-effective care. A 2014 report from the Minnesota Board of Dentistry and Department of Health evaluated the impact of these providers and found that they expand access to care for vulnerable populations and improve the efficiency of clinics and dental offices.”

Across the country, both in Indian Country, and now in states, the idea of a midlevel dental practice is expanding.

Last summer at the National Congress of American Indians, Brian Cladosby, Chairman of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, and president of NCAI, said the tribe would expand dental health therapy using its own sovereign regulatory structure. In recent months tribes in Oregon began their own pilot program to train dental therapists.

This innovation is the future. It expands dental care as well as opportunity for young people who want a career in dental health. It’s important to tell the story and its roots with the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium.

Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once called states “the laboratories of democracy.” Tribes, and intertribal organizations, then, might be first test labs.

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

Reposting or reprinting this column? Please credit: Mark Trahant / TrahantReports.com


#NativeVote16 – A champion for change will be on South Dakota’s ballot

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Henry Red Cloud is the Democratic candidate in South Dakota for Public Utilities Commission. He is an entrepreneur that builds solar energy projects. (Photo via YouTube.)

The Year of the Native American candidate

Mark Trahant / TrahantReports

It’s easy to dismiss this election. Every day there’s more news about something outrageous that was said by a presidential candidate. Grab the remote. Click. It’s gone and and ignore.

But that’s only one way to think about the 2016 election. Flip the narrative and this is the most interesting and exciting election ever. Especially for American Indians and Alaska Natives.

Just look across the country at the sheer number of Native Americans candidates challenging the status quo in races from county commissions to Congress. This much is certain: This is the year of the Native American candidate. If it’s also the year of the Native American voter, well, look out, innovation is ahead.

I have always thought many people with experiences in Native communities have a lot to offer the broader community. I often see creativity and innovation.

South Dakota Democrats nominated Henry Red Cloud as the party’s nominee for a spot on the state’s Public Utilities Commission. Red Cloud, Lakota is the founder and owner of a renewable energy company based in Pine Ridge. “Lakota Solar Enterprises is located on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, home to the Oglala Sioux Tribe,” the company’s web page says.  “We believe that reducing our dependence on fossil fuels is important. And on tribal lands, it is imperative. We hope you will join us in helping tribes achieve energy sovereignty.” He calls renewable energy “a new way to honor old ways.”

His company, and associated nonprofit, do that by installing real solar systems into people’s homes. But Red Cloud has said he sees these projects beyond (as important as it is) sustainable energy. He sees this as a route to build a stronger economy within tribal nations.

This is a great story to tell during an election campaign. Voters will be introduced to a creative and innovative energy path that’s creating real jobs now, employing people to build and install solar energy systems. Contrast this with the usual discourse about energy or the nonsense about how climate change isn’t real.

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President Obama honored Red Cloud for his work in 2014 as a “Champion of Change.”

Red Cloud told The Associated Press he is “honored” by the nomination and is “eager to discuss the challenges and opportunities facing consumers and utility companies in South Dakota.”

The South Dakota Public Utilities Commission in January certified the Keystone XL pipeline route through the state. The agency said at the time that if a presidential permit is issued, and then “the pipeline is built, the PUC will monitor the progress to ensure the construction conditions are met.” In other words: This is a critical agency for pipelines and energy planning.

And, unfortunately, this is where that presidential race creeps back into the process. The next president could think differently about Keystone XL than President Obama. Plus there is a new challenge based on free trade.

But this is also why this election is so important. Red Cloud is running for the regulatory post and next door, Marlo Hunte-Beaubrun, is seeking a seat on the three-member North Dakota Public Services Commission.  The Public Service Commission regulates the oil and gas industry as well as telecommunications, weights and measures, and pipelines. In January the agency approved the Dakota Access Pipeline. (Previous: Pipelines, rail cars, and the price of oil.)

Red Cloud and Hunte-Beaubrun are two of five Native American candidates across the country running for statewide office. And on the front lines (or is that the front desk?) of making decisions about pipelines, energy policy and climate change.

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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#NativeVote16 – Only three vote margin and too few signatures to run


Glacier County Commissioner Michael DesRosier (Photo via Facebook)

Counting every vote (again)


Every election there is new evidence that, yes, your vote does count. (This week, for example, there has been stories from voters who voted for the United Kingdom to leave Europe only because they thought their vote did not count. Whoops.)

Now a race in  Blackfeet Country is being contested over three votes.

On the night of Montana’s primary election, Glacier County Commissioner Michael DeRosier appeared to have been defeated in the primary by challenger Jamie Evans by 42 votes.

But about a week later, after 131 provisional ballots were counted, the lead changed and DeRosier appeared to have won. On Wednesday the County Commission (absent DeRosier) will witness a recount tally to see if DeRosier’s three-vote lead continues to hold. Stay tuned. — Mark Trahant

Candace Begody-Begay fails to reach ballot

Former Navajo Times editor Candace Begody-Begay failed to quality for the November ballot for the Arizona state Senate. According to The Arizona Republic: “Not only were 59 percent of her signatures invalid, she failed to appear at a Friday court hearing despite assurances to state officials that she would be there.” The newspaper said under Arizona law she cannot run as a write-in because of a “sore loser” law.

Her husband, Carlyle Begay, remains a candidate for Congress in the Republican primary. Two other Navajo candidates, Shawn Redd, also a Republican, and Kayto Sullivan, a Democrat, are seeking that congressional seat.

Begody-Begay’s problem collecting signatures highlights the very problem for any Navajo running in a Republican primary. Even with support from Navajo voters, few of those voters are registered as Republicans or as unaffiliated voters. (Previous: Can one family build a Navajo Republican party?) Begody-Begay told the Navajo Times that she could not attend the court hearing because of a family emergency. “It’s safe to say there will be very little change in our district,” she told the Times. “The voters are the ones who are going to have to live with the consequences.”

Then again it’s hard to blame someone else for the requirements of actually running a campaign, such as gathering signatures, raising money, and doing what’s necessary to be a competitive candidate. — Mark Trahant





#NativeVote16 – Candidates running statewide (graphic)

I keep thinking: “This election is cool.” Then something happens. I get excited, and I am thinking, even more so, this election is cool.
Today? This election is cool. Another statewide candidate, Henry Red Cloud in South Dakota. I’ll post a story Sunday morning. But for now … a chart.

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#NativeVote16 – Idaho has a history of success for Native candidates


Louis Archuleta campaigning for the Idaho House of Representatives. He is running as a Democrat. (Facebook photo)

Mark Trahant / TrahantReports

Joe Garry was elected to the Idaho House of Representatives in 1957. He was, of course, the first American Indian to serve in that body. A decade later he moved up to the state Senate and later ran for the U.S. Senate in 1960 and again in 1962. Also a first.  He also was a member and later chairman of the Coeur d’Alene Tribal Council and president of the National Congress of American Indians.

A few months after he died in 1975, I was covering the Idaho Democratic Party convention for the Sho-Ban News. The party chairman that year was Leona Garry, a Lakota woman, and Joe’s widow. I recall her passion for the political process and for the importance of adding new voices.


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Campaign ad for Jeanne Givens, via Google, Spokesman-Review.

One of Garry’s nieces, Jeanne Givens, was elected to the Idaho House in 1982. She was the first American Indian woman to serve. And, like her uncle, she challenged the status quo with a bid for Congress in 1988.

Four years ago another Coeur d’Alene tribal member, Paulette Jordan, ran for the House seat and lost. But what’s cool is that two years later she ran again. And won. (Previous: Paulette Jordan takes a step toward re-election.) This proves what may be the most important lesson: You gotta run to win. Sometimes more than once. Jordan describes Givens as a mentor who has taught her much about politics.

Rep. Jordan already has influence that travels far beyond her district. Last week, for example, in Boise she stood in solidarity at Boise Pride. “Standing together in a sea of love, it was clear Idaho’s citizens demand far more than what they have been drawn,” she wrote on Facebook. “Life is too short to let ignorance rule society, and far to precious to be overcome with threats and fear. … I stand with those who have been victims of hate crimes here in our own state and I will continue to stand with those who face discrimination in their daily life.”

In the southern part of the state, Larry EchoHawk successfully ran for the legislature in 1982. After serving two terms he ran for, and won, election as the Bannock County attorney. Then another first. In 1990 he was elected Attorney General. (One of the few Native Americans to win a statewide office anywhere.) Four years later he ran for governor of Idaho and lost.

So Idaho has a long history electing a Native Americans to public office. What’s remarkable about that history is that Native Americans barely register a blip in terms of demographics. In the first congressional district, for example, Native American votes are two-tenths of one percent. Statewide there are only about 21,000 Native Americans, roughly one percent of the population. So any winning Native politician must figure out how to build a coalition of voters. (Especially if that candidate is a Democrat. Idaho may be the most Republican state in the United States. Not a single Democrat holds statewide office.)

But in 2016 Jordan will not be the only Native American candidate for the state legislature. Louis Archuleta, Shoshone-Bannock, is running for the state House from the Pocatello area. He was a late entry, winning the May primary as a write-in candidate. He has an extraordinary background as a designer and engineer. He helped some of the ground support systems for the Space Shuttle and was a co-director of Idaho State University’s Young Explorers in Space program.

Archuleta’s Facebook page also promotes his Latino roots, part of an important coalition in Idaho. Archuleta says his “education is the cornerstone of my campaign, my passion is helping Idaho children be the smartest and best prepared pupils in the country.”

There are 105 members of the Idaho legislature. So two Native candidates is a big deal. Why? Because if both get elected that would be double the state’s percentage of Native American people. And why not? As I wrote above: Idaho is not a state with a large Native American population. But there is a history of success.

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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#NativeVote16 – Graphic look at Native American candidates for US House, Senate

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Native American candidates for the U.S. House and Senate. If you’d rather … Spreadsheet is here.