Indian Country politics and public policy

Commentary by Mark Trahant

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Chase Iron Eyes in Fargo for state’s congressional debate. He said: “We are creating a 21st century North Dakota.” (Photo via Facebook)

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

We’re about a month away from this election season being over — and so there is a lot going on in the #NativeVote16 universe. (Previous: Make no mistake, Standing Rock is on the ballot.)

Let’s start in North Dakota where three Native American candidates are on the ballot statewide, plus five more for state legislative offices. Chase Iron Eyes, Ruth Buffalo and Marlo Hunte-Beaubrun are essentially running as a team. Almost a Indigenous version of the Democratic Party (which says something about the regular party). To me this race shows how much better our politics would be if campaigns were publicly funded because then it would only be a debate about the issues. And there would be a more equal platform for that discourse.  As it stands: Iron Eyes and his colleagues are campaigning by selling t-shirts and small donations. While their opponents have all the resources they need (plus a very Republican state as a base of support). On Facebook, Iron Eyes posted, “Congressional races are just as important as the presidential race. If I can hit you up for 5$ go here www.ironeyesforcongress.us I need some basic ads to make this real.”

Last week the one moment of equality was Face To Face: North Dakota US House Debate on Prairie Public Broadcasting. This was important because the difference between U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-North Dakota, and Iron Eyes could not be more stark. Cramer was pitch perfect in his support of big oil and the Dakota Access Pipeline. said that the Standing Rock Tribe did have consultation, nine times, but that was not the same as consent. He said his biggest concern is that the administration changed the rules after they were followed. (My view of that logic in an earlier piece, “Who gets to tell the Standing Rock story about what happens next?”)

“I just think we need to be respecting each other,” Iron Eyes said in the debate. “I just don’t feel we should be putting our water resource at risk … pipelines need to move our oil to market, but Energy Transfers lied to the American people saying this was American oil to be consumed on American soil, and they have since backed away from that.”

Ruth Buffalo is running to be the state’s Insurance Commission. She also debated last week on Prairie Public Television.  She said it’s a critical post because it’s the advocate for the people of North Dakota to hold insurance companies accountable for following through on their promises. Her campaign is largely public appearances (she crosses the state a lot, and that’s not easy in North Dakota) as well as social media. Her campaign manager recently posted on Facebook: “Election day is less than FIVE weeks away! Our page has over 3,000 likes, which is phenomenal! This is a true grass roots effort. Today, and for the rest of the campaign, I am going to ask you a favor: spread the word to your contacts about Ruth and her vision as Insurance Commissioner of North Dakota. If everyone who likes this pages reaches and convinces at least 50 new people, we will have a real shot to bring Ruth’s experience in health and business, as well as her unique and compassionate voice, to the insurance branch of North Dakota.”

Marlo Hunte-Beaubrun is campaigning for the office that would regulate pipelines such as the Dakota Access Pipeline. In a campaign video she said many North Dakotans know that the regulatory process is unfair and she’s like to restore balance. “But I can’t do that alone. I need your vote,” she said. “Let’s give North Dakota a chance at success.”

The world is watching what is happening at Standing Rock. And these campaigns represent a chance for those same voices to have a say in the political process from pipelines to health care. And if you think it’s impossible for the impossible to happen, consider this, with the Trump-implosion, all bets are off. Seats that were supposed to be safe might not be. Elections are all about who shows up.

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

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