Indian Country politics and public policy

Commentary by Mark Trahant

 

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Trahant Reports

A short transparency report.

It’s spring break and I have a plan: Write at least 15,000 words. My next book is in my head and I need to transcribe it on digital paper.

For those who want to follow along: I am opening a new tab on my blog, Disrupt! I’ll post the outline and each chapter as a draft.  (I am still toying with titles.)

I’m trying to capture what’s going on in an age of disruption in Indian Country from viral videos to Standing Rock. And, of course, the election.

So next week I’ll step back from breaking stories — unless something big happens on health care or the budget. (I do however want to build a cool, moving graphic that follows the Indian affairs budget from 1900 on and match it to population. I’ve got the numbers … I am now playing with ideas about how to tell this as a visual story.)

Another internal debate: Should I pitch this book to my agent and commercial publishers or go the route I did for The Last Great Battle. That book did well. And I really liked marketing and distributing it via social media. But it would be nice not to have to worry about any of that, especially if there was an advance involved. Thinking. Thinking.

One more head’s up: I am considering the idea of making the radio version of Trahant Reports a daily feed. There is so much going on right now that having breaking analysis might be helpful. Trahant Reports now is a weekly commentary carried on Native Voice One for tribal stations. Every day would be a huge challenge. But if I am organized, I don’t see why not? (I write every day … so it’s just one more thing to read that work into a microphone.) I need to figure out the revenue model (if there is one), and perhaps see if a foundation or sponsors would support it, and go from there. I am exploring with a colleague the idea of sharing a producer to keep costs down.

Enough transparency. Feedback and ideas are welcome.

Now back to work. Today’s word count is 1830. So far.

— Mark

INDIAN COUNTRY &

The Era of Disruption

(Working Outline)

THEME: Uncertainty

One: What the hell just happened?

Essay explores the forces of disruption from the changing nature of technology to the coming decline in fossil fuels. We are already seeing dramatically changing consumption patterns and a country that may not be able to govern itself. Why is this era of dramatic change is so unsettling? (Hint: It’s not just Donald J. Trump.)

Two: Standing Rock changed everything

The story of Standing Rock and why it matters in a Trump era. After two centuries of destruction, why now, why are tribes refusing to accept environmental sacrifice for the good of the country?

Three: Andrew Jackson would be proud. Really?

The White House is occupied by a “man of the people” along the lines of those in the Jacksonian era.  Adding modern context and strategies to mitigate Donald Trump ranging from market-based solutions to mass disobedience.


THEME: DEMOCRACY IS SO WORTH A TRY

Four: Breaking the 0.37 percent barrier

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.

Five: The hidden history of why Native Americans lose elections and what to do about it.

Indian Country does too little investment in our own candidates. Oh, sure, we get excited when someone runs. But the money does not follow. And there is no institutional support. On the other hand, far more campaign funds from tribes and tribal enterprises are invested in the status quo.

Six: 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.


THEME: POLITICS IS ABOUT POLICY

Seven: 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.

Eight: The Treaty Right to 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.


Nine: 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).


THEME: DISRUPT!


Ten: A global warming manifesto

Indian Country will be the first to be hit by the impacts of global warming. Alaska Native villages will be at risk of flooding. Animal and salmon patterns will change (or even disappear). And tribal people will have to adapt. At least there is a 10,000-year history that could be a planning guide.

Eleven: 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

Fifteen: Just say, Montana. Alaska. Or look across the country.

Indian Country success stories lead to other success stories. Montana is a great example. Visualize Montana and do some math. At one point this last year there was more than a dozen candidates for federal and state offices. The Montana Dozen is a powerful idea about change.

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.

One more success story is nationwide. Native Americans are in key leadership positions in at least seven state legislatures. That’s impressive — and critical right now because of the types of conversations that will be going back and forth between Washington, D.C., and state capitals about Medicaid, health care and energy policy.

Thirteen: 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).


Sixteen: 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.


Seventeen: 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.


Eighteen: Making elections 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.

Nineteen: One day soon … the road to the White House will be red, brown, black and young


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.


Closing essay.  The end of the United States.

What happens to tribes without the United States? What’s a transition look like? Start with the retelling of a 10,000-year history. Native people in North America have made the shifted from hunting mammoth to buffalo. From living off salmon during the ice age to rebuilding salmon habitat and stock even in the era of global warming.

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