So the Native politicians get it and head to the camps to show support. To date Chase Iron Eyes and Ruth Buffalo (my apologies for not including her in the first piece I wrote) have shared their experiences from the camp. Buffalo wrote: “I have been to the spirit camp and the new Red Warrior Camp a few times. I first went as early as August 11 after co-presenting at the injury prevention conference in Bismarck. On the first trip I brought a box of fruit. The second trip, vegetables from my mom’s (an elder’s) … garden.”
And now Red Cloud says he’s taking the “pipeline fight to the PUC.” He will bring food and solar lighting platforms to the camp.
He said in a news release: “People are uniting against the Dakota Access Pipeline because it is dangerous to people, their land and certainly for our irreplaceable water. Farmers, ranchers, tribal members and just regular citizens hear almost every day about another oil spill or pipeline bursting. We hear from their own engineers that the work they are doing is hurried. We can’t allow them to put a pipeline under the Missouri River.”
“What many people do not realize,” says Red Cloud, “is that the Public Utilities Commission has an ongoing and important say in the pipeline’s construction. The Commission is ultimately responsible for approving or rejecting many of the steps needed for pipelines to pass through South Dakota, and for other new energy projects.”
There are two important reasons why regional politicians should travel to Standing Rock. First, to show support, as those Native candidates did. But equally important is for government officials to get a first-hand look. There is no substitute for hearing directly from the people at the camp. That’s what I don’t get. Every candidate for governor, Congress, current office holders, Interior Secretary Sally Jewel, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, and even presidential candidates, should travel and investigate. (I know the folks I have worked for in government would have done that. It’s common sense.)
Across the country there are political waves rolling from Standing Rock. The entire issue is forcing people to think differently about the cost of energy, not it terms of money, but the cost of healthy living. The Missouri and Cannonball Rivers are cleanup projects that never have to happen. If the right decision is made now.
But not everyone is there yet. In Minneapolis a proposed city council resolution of support turned into another version of moving the pipeline to someone else’s water. According to City Pages, Alondra Cano’s resolution called for “Expressing Solidarity With Indigenous Resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline.” The city council would “stand in support of Indigenous opposition” and support Standing Rock “in any way they can.” But others on the council see the pipeline as a safer alternative to the oil trains that Minneapolis and other cities want stopped.
That’s why this is The Moment. The idea is that we can no longer continue to shove toxic problems from one community to another.
As Red Cloud puts it: “We simply have to stop accepting and approving poorly planned and disastrous projects like this.”
And the solution is for a new era. In his election, it’s the call for South Dakota to “become a world class supplier of renewable energy.”
But that’s true in North Dakota too. And Minnesota. And across the globe.
“South Dakota has huge solar and wind resources and we can be a world leader in clean energy production,” says Red Cloud. “My vision is for South Dakota to transition away from oil and become the renewable energy state.”
In Arizona’s 2nd Congressional District, Victoria Steele fell short in her bid for federal office. A Tucson physician, Matt Heinz, won the Democratic primary with 27,791 votes to Steele’s 24,417 votes. He will face U.S. Rep. Martha McSally. Steele is Seneca.
Shawn Redd, running in Arizona’s 1st Congressional District, only earned about 3 percent of the vote and was sixth in the remaining field of six Republicans. Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu won the GOP primary and will face Democrat Tom O’Halleran in November. This district has the highest percentage of Native American voters in the country. Redd, who is Navajo, was the only remaining Native candidate in the race.
In a contested state Senate race, Jamescita Peshlakai is ahead of Steven Begay by some 1,300 votes. “I think the LD7 senate race won’t be called until tomorrow,” she wrote on Facebook Tuesday night. “Although my heart is beating like a rabbit, I’m going to try to sleep. Thank you to all that made this campaign amazing. I truly am humbled, grateful and feel good about our people, our communities and the positive forces that bring us together.”
Three other #NativeVote16 candidates were on the ballot, but running unopposed in the primary, Eric Descheenie, Wenona Benally, and Sally Ann Gonzales.
FRAZER, Montana — A couple of years ago I was moderating a debate. At the last minute, one of the candidates called in sick. But we went ahead anyway and spent the next 90 minutes having a conversation with a single candidate. It was the best debate ever. Those of us who were there learned far more about the candidate’s policies, his philosophy, and his temperament.
The Montana Congressional Debate between Rep. Ryan Zinke and Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau was not like that. It was formatted such that too many answers only left more questions.
Basically if you share a worldview of Republicans, and Donald Trump, you were probably cheering for Zinke. Flip it around, and if that lens you are wearing is a Democratic one, then it was Juneau’s night. In that way: Montana voters are lucky: There is a stark divide on just about every issue before the public.
Except, at least in this format, when the issue involves American Indian policy. And of course that was the ideal topic for a debate held within the boundaries of the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes. It was at least the third congressional debate held on a reservation in Montana (and the second on the Fort Peck Reservation).
Juneau, as you would expect, knows these issues. She grew up learning the language and the nuance of what it means to represent Indian Country from Indian Country. She said she has earned the endorsement of the Fort Peck Tribes and has the “full weight of the Assiniboine and Sioux Nations behind her.”
Zinke said he understands the contributions of the tribes and is an adopted Assiniboine. But when the issues went past a minute or 30-seconds there was a lot wanting.
The first question, for example, was from Fort Peck Tribal Executive Board Member Grant Stafne asking about a statement made by the Republican candidate for governor, Greg Gianforte, that Indian Country lacks a consistent rule of law, respect for property rights, and too much nepotism to be successful.
“I stand with tribal sovereignty, tribal government sovereignty, with tribal economic self-determination,” Juneau said. She said she recently rolled out her Indian Country priorities and has visited with every tribal nation in the state.
Zinke’s response was to align Juneau with Hillary Clinton. (This is interesting in itself. Across the country it’s usually Democrats who add Donald Trump’s name to every reference to their opponent. But in Montana, and in Zinke’s campaign, it’s the Hillary this, Hillary that.)
“The truth is I support tribes,” Zinke said. “The truth is I support sovereignty. I don’t think anyone has worked harder trying to get the Blackfeet Water Compact done, about tribal sovereignty, about recognizing Little Shell … I have been out here not because I am your congressman but because I care.” He said he has been to people’s homes, met with councils, and “been to powwows.”
This is where the time limits kick in. I’d love to hear a Republican conversation, a deep, thoughtful, complex back and forth about the issues beyond slogans. Zinke said that tribes need more freedom to be sovereign, free from Washington over-regulation. And Zinke’s tribal labor sovereignty act would do that. But why only labor unions? Why not promote complete tribal jurisdiction, the authority to govern lands and people within tribal boundaries? And, if that is the plan, then why did the Republican majority in the House so vigorously object to the Violence Against Women Act on that very principle.
Zinke proudly dismissed the Affordable Care Act “an unmitigated disaster.” When Juneau pointed out that law includes the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, Zinke countered, saying his whole sentence should include “repeal and replace.”
All that begs more conversation. How do you repeal and replace when there has never been a single Republican plan presented that includes Indian health (other than the wacky idea to open up supplemental insurance). What’s more: The main reason the Indian Health Care Improvement Act is included in the Affordable Care Act is because Republicans in the House blocked the reauthorization for a decade. Repeal and replace? Sure. With what?
And what about Medicaid Expansion? What is the Republican plan to replace that? Repealing the Affordable Care Act will take away health insurance from nearly 40,000 people in Montana. That may be the most successful component of the Affordable Care Act and it is adding significant resources to the Indian health system, money that mostly remains in local service units.
My favorite missing conversation is about coal. In this race, and indeed, across the country, it’s become a Republican talking point that Washington is responsible for the demise of coal. That Obama! The implication is that if you elect Republicans, coal will come back. The problem with that logic is that global markets have given up on coal. It’s not just Washington. It’s Europe. It’s China. And the result is the biggest drop of consumption of any natural resource in history. An election is not going to change that fact. It’s a global trend, not a political one.
Back to the debate. The format is terrible. Ideas are clipped before they begin. People will walk in and walk out more enthused than enlightened. Then again: It’s a fabulous to have a debate in a community like Frazer. Montana shows how it should be done; kudos to Juneau and Zinke for that. We need politicians to answer questions (even with short answers) in every congressional district with tribal communities. In the end: The words are not nearly as important as being there.
The disconnect between the perception of Camp Sacred Stone and the reality of the moment starts a few miles south of Mandan, North Dakota.
A cement barricade and a handful of law police divert traffic so that people have a slightly slower route to Camp Sacred Stone. Not that it stops anyone. It’s silly. And more than anything else it displays a deep sense of ignorance.
Indeed it’s that ignorance that is systemic. There is a profound regional misunderstanding about so many things. It’s exactly why, in an election year, every politician running for office (or even those in office) ought to take a few hours drive around the barricade and take time to listen.
What will they see and hear?
The first thing is a remarkable organization. It’s very much like any powwow weekend in America — except more so. Checkpoints (no alcohol, no drugs, no weapons) and a food operation that is extraordinarily complex managing the increasing shipment of donations to the menu of the day. Everybody is fed. People walk around camp handing out water, “make sure you stay hydrated in the heat,” was a common pitch. And the trash is about as organized as you can get: Cans for cigarette butts, recycling bins, and garbage bags. When people forget to separate their plastic – we are dealing with human beings after all – there are regular reminders and more people to help. (My favorite spot: Signal hill. Where people stand because cell phone bars are pretty good alright.)
Politicians would hear speeches, songs, and prayers, one after another. People standing, listening, laughing, nodding, and inspired. They’d also see many symbols of patriotism: From flags to recurring honors for veterans.
But the most important lesson for any politician who drops by would be this: A clear message of resolve. There is a serious purpose for the people here, one that’s not going away without a successful resolution. There are so many avenues for that to happen: A favorable court ruling based on the Treaty or federal consultation rules, a potential legal challenge to the failure of Dakota Access Pipeline to secure easements before beginning construction, global interest and support, and, the court of public opinion. As more media arrive it’s this story of resolve and peaceful purpose that will carry the day.
And for the North Dakota politicians who show up. A few have been here already. Congressional candidate Chase Iron Eyes posted on Facebook: “Don’t get dragged into this racial division being pushed as a result of the DAPL happenings. We are stronger together. You can’t ignore the ignorant & hateful comments, so represent your character but fighting fire with fire too long burns a hole in the soul. Remember we are all evolving socially, there are racists in each race, and there are liberated people who see race for the superficial human construct it is. We have been living side by side for 120 years, relatives. We are neighbors, like it or not. Mutual respect must reign.”
And Marlo Hunte-Beaubrun, who’s running for the office that would regulate pipelines, spent Saturday in service. She reported handing out “780 bags of chips for 4 hrs & was promoted to chip supervisor.” This is what politics is supposed to be about, service, and she “observed, & visited friends & family I haven’t seen in a while … had some good, much needed laughs!”
But on her way out. “As I tried to go home today the police that stopped me at the blockade & said ‘for the safety of the protesters, you have to go around!’ So this little country girl took the backroads (and the country) was just as beautiful as it was when I was a little girl!”
The roadblock is silly. And it’s exactly why North Dakota politicians – especially the Republicans – need to spend a few hours looking at the world from a different point of view.
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
Update. Since Arizona’s primary is Tuesday I’ll post two more#NativeVote16 candidate graphics today. I want to make sure to give people time to share & retweet.
Crazy travel schedule ahead. Off to Standing Rock today, then headed to Frazer, Montana, for the first congressional debate on Monday. Denise Juneau, Rep. Ryan Zinke, and Mike Fellows will explore issues on the Fort Peck Reservation.
I have been searching archival material to see if there has been another congressional debate in Indian Country * as in ever * but have not found one. So this very well might be the first. At any rate, it’s historic.
The Arizona primary election is Tuesday and there are all sorts of implications for Indian Country. At least six Native American candidates are on the ballot for offices ranging from Congress to the state legislature. Three of those races are contested.
Victoria Steele, Seneca, is running for the U.S. House of Representatives in Arizona’s 2nd Congressional District. She faces Matt Heinz, a Tucson physician. Both Steele and Heinz served in the Arizona Legislature and the main issue so far is which one would be the better general election candidate against U.S. Rep. Martha McSally.
The Washington Post says this is the race to watch: McSally won two years ago by only 167 votes. The Post: “McSally is a fundraising machine and a GOP star, but her district is very competitive and at least a moderate Democratic wave could give her problems.”
Steele recently posted on Facebook her support for Standing Rock stopping the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Steele wrote: “It’s not ancient history: I stand proudly and defiantly with the people of the Sioux Nation in protecting their sacred land. Most people don’t feel the guilt of the genocide of Native Americans because they think it was something that happened in “ancient history” but it’s not ancient. The taking of Native lands simply because the invaders wanted it….This arrogant and greedy practice has been happening for more than 500 years and it is still happening today in places like Oak Flat, Bears Ears in Utah and now in North Dakota near Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. I am with you my brothers and sisters. This is wrong.”
Arizona 1st Congressional District
Shawn Redd, Navajo, will be on the ballot for the crowded Republican primary for Arizona’s 1st Congressional District. Redd trails the other four GOP candidates in name recognition and fundraising. He will also have the tough task of getting Native Americans in the district registered as either Republicans or Unaffiliated (most are Democrats) in order to be eligible to cast a primary vote.
There are three things to know about this district: It’s one of the most competitive in the nation. The campaign will be expensive. And, it’s the district with the highest percentage of Native Americans. (Previous: Big Money Targets Arizona First Congressional)
Arizona’s 7th legislative district
Another contested race in Arizona is in the 7th Legislative District. Nearly two-thirds of the voters are Native Americans, including the homelands of eight tribes. The Senate race is between Jamescita Peshlakai, a former state Representative, and Steven Begay. Both are Navajo.
Former Navajo Nation President Peterson Zah recently endorsed Peshlakai. “The universe has given me the great blessing of being able to work with a great, great man. My cheii, Peterson Zah, was our Navajo Nation’s last Chairman and first President (1991-1995),” Peshlaklai wrote on her Facebook. page “I have come to respect him more and more each day, he is humble, respectful and has a spine of steel. He believes in my leadership; compassionate and yet unyelding in the way of the warrior. I am so very honored to have his endorsement and support as your next Senator for AZ’s District 7.”
However her opponent said the endorsement was improper. “The president’s staff should be remain impartial on supporting candidates, especially when one of their own is in a key race for a Arizona senate seat. ‘Ambassador’ Zah has crossed the line of integrity by publicly endorsing a co-worker,”he wrote on Facebook. “Have Zah and other executive staff from the OP/VP used tribal property and their work hours to campaign for their co-worker?”
John McCain, Donald Trump, and the question of turnout
One thing to watch Tuesday is what will happen to Arizona Sen. John McCain. His challenger Kelli Ward said the senator could, get this, die in office. The Washington Post called it one of the “nastiest political attacks you’ll ever see.” In an interview on MSNBC with Chuck Todd she went further: “John McCain is falling down on the job. He has gotten weak. He has gotten old. I do want to wish him a happy birthday. He’s going to be 80 on Monday, and I want to give him the best birthday present ever, the gift of retirement.”
For his part, McCain has been uncomfortable talking about Donald Trump, and essentially sticks to the script about supporting his party’s nominee. (The winner will face U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick in the general election.)
Nearly a million Arizonans voted in the presidential primary in March. The stories were all about too few polling locations and long lines. It will be interesting to see if this election is anything like that one.
And one more cool thing about this election: Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission published its Voter’s Guide in English, Spanish, and Navajo. Take a peek.
My Facebook feed is rolling with new feeds from those headed to North Dakota to join those protecting the drinking water for the people of Standing Rock and Cheyenne River. Other folks are fundraising using a variety of social media tools. And, still other people are gathering food and supplies for the many people camped near the river site. Plus dozens of tribes, organizations, and individuals are sending letters of support.
That combined is the essence of political organizing.
There is a problem, seemingly intractable, because the Dakota Access Project has opted for a route crossing the Missouri River in a location that threatens the drinking water for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe (and eventually the Cheyenne River Tribe). So the tribes and supporters are organizing on multiple fronts. Litigation, set to begin next week, will challenge the role (or lack thereof) by federal regulators that have a trust responsibility to protect the tribes’ interests. And in the court of public opinion, hundreds of people are bringing the dispute into the new living room of America (that’s Facebook) where the story is often trending for all to see. (This shows how social media really is the new media for most people … but that’s another post.)
The magnitude of the organization is impressive. All it takes is a phone call, a Facebook post, or a picture on Instagram and there is somebody ready to act. Even letters of support are identical to “endorsements” of candidates or ballot measures. This is pure political organizing, 101. It’s the exact sort of passion that wins elections. What’s interesting about this debate, this moment in time, is that so many #NativeVote16 candidates are on the ballot statewide in North Dakota and South Dakota. The same organizational tools that bring food must also be configured to win an election. This election.
Imagine Chase Iron Eyes in Congress who is selling t-shirts to fund his campaign instead of Kevin Cramer who has more than a million dollars in contributions, some $652,000 from political action committees and corporations.
Or specifically on this issue: Marlo Hunte-Beaubrun, Standing Rock Sioux, is running for North Dakota’s Public Service Commission and Henry Red Cloud, Oglala Lakota, is a candidate for South Dakota’s Public Utilities Commission. These are the state regulatory bodies that determine approval process for pipeline companies. One vote in each state might not be enough to change the outcome, but one voice on each of those commissions could raise tribal concerns every single time the issue comes up.
But over a 13-month hearing schedule, the commission could have been the one to get out and talk to the people. That would have happened with Hunte-Beaubrun and Red Cloud on the two bodies. They would have made certain to include community voices.
The chairman of North Dakota’s body, Julie Fedorchak, said the permitting process is over because the company’s plans have already been approved.
Then again never say never. The strategy for the Dakota Access Pipeline has been all about getting a quick approval process. The original plan calls for completing construction this year. But if the protests and litigation slow that down, that might cause the company to rethink its route. Especially if they are looking at delays measured in years not months. I am not a lawyer but it sure looks to me like there is a lot of evidence that the Army Corps of Engineers failed the consultation protocol — a point that other federal agencies are making. And when local newspapers report that the route was shifted south to protect an urban water source, well, that no longer passes the smell test to say that same pipeline is safe for tribal communities. As the Bismarck Tribune put it: “The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers evaluated the Bismarck route and concluded it was not a viable option for many reasons. One reason mentioned in the agency’s environmental assessment is the proximity to wellhead source water protection areas that are avoided to protect municipal water supply wells.”
And when there is an oil spill a river cleanup is difficult, if not impossible. (An irony: Some of the best data about the potential for oil spills comes for the Pacific Northwest, a region that is impacted by the alternative to pipelines, rail transportation of oil.)
Last year a nearly 40,000 gallon pipeline leak on the Yellowstone River resulted in toxic drinking water for the communities near Glendive, Montana.
What makes this spill worth considering is two-fold: First, the volume of oil was only a fraction of what the Dakota Access Pipeline will carry; Second, a harsh winter made it impossible for the pipeline company to stop the leak. The Environmental Protection Agency’s Paul Peronard told The National Geographic:“None of us anticipated the drinking water problem.”
This time the problem is anticipated. And, like Montana, it’s certain that icy conditions will make any real time reaction to an emergency spill nearly impossible.
Back to politics: How many votes are needed to elect Hunte-Beaubrun? She would need to find 70,000 more votes than the last Democrat who ran for that office. And Red Cloud would need about 100,000 more votes.
Tall orders? Sure. But it’s no different than organizing food, transportation, and lodging for hundreds of last-minute guests. Or protectors, if you prefer.
It’s easy to be optimistic about the prospects for American Indian and Alaska Native candidates in this election and beyond. Our numbers are growing, organizations are getting stronger, and, best of all, the most remarkable, talented people are giving elective office a shot.
Then I hear that voice inside: “Ahh, yes, but good people lose.” That’s true. But at the same time politics has a long arc that brings about change. It’s not one election. Or one candidate. It’s that constant push. This should be a routine: We encourage candidates, help when we can, organize, and repeat when necessary. Then there is Trahant’s Rule: You gotta run to win. There is no substitute for putting your name on the ballot.
And so I am burying the lede: Edgar Blatchford lost his Democratic primary run for the U.S. Senate on Tuesday. He placed second in a field of three. Ray Metcalfe had 13,631 or a little more than 51% of the votes to Blatchford’s 7,433 votes or about 34%.
There are two areas of the country where it’s a question of “when” not “if” there will be Native representation in Congress. Alaska is one. Arizona’s first congressional district is the second. (The next primary is Aug. 30 in Arizona.) Perhaps when is just an election or two away. But you gotta run to win.
A question I am often asked: Are American Indians and Alaska Natives only Democrats? Of course not. There are Native Republicans, Greens, Libertarians, and Independents. Yet the data show that the vast majority of Native Americans vote for Democrats. And run for office as Democrats.
Of the active candidates on my #NativeVote16 boards there are 75 Democrats, 14 Republicans, and 4 independents (or no affiliation reported). But if you look at history, there are a lot more American Indians and Alaska Natives who have won office under the Republican banner. That list includes: Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, Northern Cheyenne, who joined the Republican Party after his election; Vice President Charles Curtis; as well as the only current members of Congress, Tom Cole and Markwayne Mullin.
The Republican Party has its Richard Nixon legacy (even if it’s not talked about much these days). President Nixon championed self-determination, rejected assimilation, and returned land to its rightful tribal owners.
Today’s Republican Party platform continues to affirm Nixon’s basic framework. “Based on both treaty and other law, the federal government has a unique government-to-government relationship with and trust responsibility for Indian Tribal Governments, American Indians, and Alaska Natives,” the platform says. “These obligations have not been sufficiently honored.”
What do the Republican candidates say about issues impacting American Indians and Alaska Natives? How do they make the case for being Republican and Native?
Oklahoma’s U.S. Rep. Cole is perhaps the most senior and respected Republican who’s also a member of a tribe. “As an enrolled member of the Chickasaw Nation, I am very proud of my heritage and the tremendous accomplishments of tribes in Oklahoma and across our country,” Cole writes on his congressional web site. “I am committed to advocating on behalf of Native Americans in Congress.”
Cole’s advocacy is routine and powerful. He was instrumental in the 2013 enactment of the Violence Against Women Act because he gave cover to Republicans who voted for the measure (and against an alternative bill). Cole has called for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, and, at the same time, has consistently said the United States government has “fallen behind” in its funding of the Indian health system. He often advocates for spending more on Indian health throughout the budget and appropriations process.
Indeed the area of health care is often a point of departure for Native American politicians who are Republican.
Montana state Rep. G. Bruce Meyer, who represents Box Elder in the state Legislature, voted for the expansion of Medicaid in the last session because it gave more options for American Indians. He also says that the Affordable Care Act has increased costs and the Indian Health Service has not improved as a result, including inadequate facilities, inadequate care and a lack of professionalism. “If we had all three working in tandem, if we had people qualifying for Medicaid services, and Indian Health Services, combined with the Affordable Care Act, it could work.”
But he said the problems in health care at the Veterans Administration and the Indian Health Service remain serious concerns. “I hope the affordable healthcare act could make some improvements, but so far we haven’t seen it,” he said. “I want to give it the benefit of the doubt to see if all three could work together, three sources of funding, but it hasn’t happened.”
Indeed most of the Republican candidates don’t even mention the link between the Affordable Care Act and the Indian Health Care Improvement Act. Oklahoma’s U.S. Rep. Mullin says on his web site that he is “a proud Cherokee citizen,” and “one of only two Native American Members of Congress.”
But when it comes to the issue health there is only the standard Republican party lines: “I have voted over 30 times to defund, dismantle or repeal Obamacare. This terrible law imposes more mandates, more taxes and is driving up the cost of health care. Obamacare also jeopardizes Oklahoma’s rural hospitals, which are already struggling.”
Labor issues are another area where Republicans favor tribal authority over federal or state power. “It is especially egregious that the Democratic Party has persistently undermined tribal sovereignty in order to provide advantage to union bosses in the tribal workplace,” the GOP platform says. “Native communities should have the same authority as state governments in labor matters, so that union bosses and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) cannot undermine the authority of tribal governments.”
Meyer says that Native Americans are naturally conservative and so it makes sense for more to join the Republican ranks. He said one of the things he’s discovered by “knocking on doors” is that the Democrats take the Indian vote for granted. “We believe in the sacredness of life,” he said. “We believe in strong families. When I am asked about the Gay Rights movement in Indian Country, I just relate it to our traditional societies and cultures … Large families, traditional families, Mother, Father, Grandmother, Grandfather, Great-grandma, Great-grandpa, uncles, aunts, were considered just like mother and father. Strong traditional families were honored and respected. But now we see a shrinking family and the nuclear family.”
He said one of the issues where he often differs with a lot of people in the tribal community is regarding “federal dole” because it hasn’t improved conditions on reservations. “I am saying, ‘let’s give the Republicans a chance, let’s see if we can develop small businesses, let’s see if we can develop Indian entrepreneurs,” he said. “I think we can develop our resources instead of white corporations and the white man do it for us.”
Meyers is Chippewa-Cree from Rocky Boy. He’s a candidate for the state Senate running in a district with a large American Indian population. His Democratic competition is former state Rep. Frank Smith, a member of the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes.
Most of the Republican candidates make little mention of issues impacting American Indian communities (unless their district is majority Native American).
However in Duluth, Minnesota, Senate candidate Donna Bergstrom, Red Lake Nation, is making reform of Indian education an issue in her campaign. She writes on her web page: “… in the State of Minnesota, American Indian students graduate at about a 49% rate, far below that of their non-Native peers. In many of the schools throughout the state, the numbers are actually lower. When education is not an expected goal or shared experience in nearly 50% of our youth, our societal foundation is weakened. Gone are the children’s options for the future of their education, for employment opportunities, and for their prospects of serving a productive role in our society.”
Bergstrom calls for “vouchers, education credits, and policies that support ‘child-focused’ learning. She says: “We must continue to look out, as cherished in Native American communities, seven generations to see how our policies and practices of today affect our future generations.”
Energy versus climate change
Most of the Republican candidates favor more energy development on tribal lands.
Alaska’s House Majority Leader, Charisse Millett, Inupiaq, praised the Obama administration for its decision to allow oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean. “I’m encouraged that the president and Interior Department have finally awakened to the reality that Shell will follow the law and do right by the State of Alaska, indigenous peoples and federal regulators,” she said. “”We hope this signals a change in the federal government’s attitude toward their own permitting system and Outside environmental interests, who don’t have the Alaskan people in mind. We’re the nation’s Arctic. We’re the nation’s energy future. It’s time for the Obama administration to let us unleash our potential and build on our decades of energy production expertise. Today is a good day.”
Jason Small is running for the Montana Senate. He’s a member of Northern Cheyenne Tribe and his central theme is the importance of coal to jobs.”Indian Reservations contain 30% of the nation’s coal reserves west of the Mississippi, an estimated 1.5 trillion dollars of energy resources,” Small testified to Congress last year. “In my opinion, coal must continue to be the mainstay in the energy mix. While wind, solar, bio-mass, and hydro energy can contribute to our national energy needs, it is clear they cannot totally replace coal as a base load power sources. I am a strong proponent for development of the rich Northern Cheyenne coal reserves.”
Small said development of coal and the Colstrip power plant “provide 3,740 jobs directly related to energy production in Montana, 3,500 in eastern Montana. An additional 2,688 private sector jobs are related. Personal income from coal-related employment is about $363 million … Colstrip employs 363 permanent workers, including 41 tribal members, one-eighth of the workforce. Others are employed by subcontractors, including during the annual overhaul when 680 are employed by North American Energy Services alone including many Navajo boilermakers. The Western Energy Mine, Colstrip currently employs 80 minorities, the majority Northern Cheyenne, nearly one-third of the craft workforce. This satisfies an original tribal goal of developing a trained work force for the day when the Northern Cheyenne would develop their own reserves.”
But the problem with coal is not just political. The international market for coal is in free-fall and more West Coast ports are refusing to be shipping centers because of environmental and climate change concerns. The United Nations has said that 80 percent of the world’s coal is un-burnable after the most recent climate change agreement signed in Paris.
Meyers said the Crow Nation is sovereign and it ought to be able to develop its own coal no matter what the state or federal government says. “The test of sovereignty is not how much we are going to be dependent on the federal government, but the true test of sovereignty is, what can we do? To create our own businesses, create our own economic viability, or own economic sustainability, that will be the true test of sovereignty.”
And what about climate change?
“I think it’s more of a political agenda than reality,” Meyers said. “There have been some scientific studies, but even those, how true are they? When you really look at the scientific evidence, how scientifically-based are they really?”
Actually, the answer is 97 percent. According to the National Space and Aeronautics Administration, “multiple studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals1 show that 97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree: Climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities.”
Inside the caucus
In New Mexico, like Montana, being a member of the Republican Party means being in the majority. Rep. Sharon Clahchischilliage, Navajo, is working with a Republican initiative to expand that majority with the Future Majority Project— a program designed to recruit more Republican candidates that reflect the diversity of America.
“Representatives (Alonzo) Baldonado and Clahchischilliage will be a great addition to the Future Majority Project because both have done a tremendous job advocating conservative values to increasingly diverse communities,” said Debbie Maestas, chairman for the Republican Party of New Mexico. “They represent the future of our party.”
Republicans are hoping to recruit, train, and elect hundreds of candidates from diverse communities. That’s essential to the party in a state like New Mexico where about half the population is Hispanic and Native Americans exceed 10 percent of the population.
Clahchischilliage is an experienced politician. She’s worked as executive director of the Navajo Nation’s Washington Office, ran for tribal president, and for other state offices. She also shows that Republicans can win seats in districts that are majority American Indian (and, for that matter, majority Democrat.) Her district is 70 percent Native American. She will face another Navajo in November, Glojean Todacheene.
However there is one caveat: Both Meyers and Clahchischilliage won their races in off-year elections. The challenge during a presidential cycle, when more Native Americans show up at the polls, will be tougher simply because there will also be more Democrats voting.
Perhaps the strongest case that Republican candidates for office make to Native American voters is that they will be inside the room when the party makes decisions on American Indian issues. Meyer said he was able to convince Republicans, for example, to support tribal water compacts with the state. “We need friends on both sides,” Meyers said. “It’s good that I am on the other side of the aisle. I tell people I am out to get the best deal for American Indians no matter which party because that’s my constituency.”
The Trump challenge
There is one question that every Republican has to answer this election: What do you think about your party’s nominee for president?
Rep. Cole, who is an important voice for party leadership, says that’s not an issue. He said on MSNBC: “There is a choice. It’s a choice between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump at this point. And, frankly, if you’re a Republican that’s a pretty easy choice. There is nobody who unites and motivates Republicans as much as Hillary Clinton.”
Then again not every Native American candidate is quite so eager to embrace Trump.