#NativeVote18 — Minnesota’s first election test starts with precinct caucuses

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Rep. Peggy Flanagan speaking at a campaign event. She Tweeted: “My fave photo from our kickoff. I’m running for my little girl and all girls who deserve to be seen, heard and valued.” (Photo via Twitter)

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

The November election seems far off. It’s almost a year away, right? Sorry. Elections are a series of steps that lead to that moment when ballots are actually counted. 

And for the #NativeVote18 candidates some of those early steps are real tests. And in Minnesota one of those critical test is Feb. 6.

So far there are 15 Native candidates on my national list, people running for office statewide or for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. That’s extraordinary and compelling when you think about it. There are two candidates for state governors, two for Lt. Governors, eight running for Congress, one for the U.S. Senate, and two for attorney general and secretary of state. Seven of the candidates are Democrats, 5 Republicans, and 2 Green Party candidates and one independent. That’s a lot of diversity in thought, geography, and, of course, culture.

Back to that test. Voters in Minnesota will caucus at the precinct level. It’s a meeting that is run by a political party. Here is how it works (from the Secretary of State’s office): “We encourage Minnesotans to show support for their preferred candidates by participating in the candidate endorsement process that leads up to the state party conventions. It all begins on Tuesday, February 6, 2018 with the precinct caucuses. Going to a caucus is a great way to show support for a candidate, raise an issue that’s important to you, influence who the party will endorse for many offices, and meet people in your community.”

There are two important things that happen at these precinct-level meetings. First there will be a “preference” vote for governor. The winner of that poll could use it to help raise money and suggest a larger base of support. The second thing is the election of delegates to the state convention. This is the big deal. Because in Minnesota state party delegates will later endorse a candidate before the primary.

A precinct caucus can be won by a small group. Basically if someone decides to take a bunch of friends to a meeting — that could change everything. That’s especially true in this year’s election because both parties have so many candidates running. A small, dedicated group of friends could win an election. Literally. (Said in a Rob Lowe voice.)

On the Democratic side (the Democratic Farmer Labor Party) there are six plus candidates, a mayor, three legislators, a state auditor, and a member of Congress.

And Rep. Tim Walz is campaigning with his pick for Lt. Gov, Rep. Peggy Flanagan. Flanagan is a member of the White Earth band of Ojibwe. And she would be the first Native American woman to hold this office. This is unusual for a team to be put together so early, but it’s also an opportunity for voters to see what an administration would look like. And for the team to balance each other in terms of interest and perception.

That’s already been an issue. Rebecca Otto, the state auditor and a DFL candidate for governor, says she is running to be the most progressive candidate. In a fundraising letter she she has “strong disagreements” with Walz because he voted for Keystone XL three times in Congress, supports the Enbridge Pipeline and “says he does not oppose the DAPL pipeline.” As is often the case, the story is more complicated than that. It’s true that Walz voted for Keystone, but he also has said that if any pipeline negatively impacts Native people, violates treaty rights, or disturbs burial grounds, it should not be built. 

There are two political tactics at work here: Otto’s team is eager to weaken support for Walz-Flanagan in Native communities and discount Flanagan’s role by only focusing on Walz’ record in Congress.

But Walz and Flanagan are running together early — so voters should judge both of them. Together. Should Walz be elected, Flanagan would be there to make the case. She would be inside the room. She might win the day. She might not. But she’ll be there for four years pushing and reminding Walz about the importance of Native issues. Especially pipelines.

Tuesday’s precinct caucus is a test for Walz and Flanagan — and for voters from Native communities in Minnesota. A precinct caucus is the perfect forum for Indian Country because a small dedicated group can win.

There are also nine Republicans running in their party caucus Tuesday. Last week former Gov. Tim Pawlenty signaled that he might try one more time. That could shake up that side of the race big time.

Mark Trahant is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports

Reposting or reprinting this column? Please do so. Just credit: Mark Trahant / TrahantReports.com #IndigenousNewsWire #NativeVote18

Trump’s deal with Democrats shows that governing is not out of the question

 

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President Donald J. Trump in North Dakota on Wednesday talking about his tax reform plans. (WhiteHouse.Gov)

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

Big news: The rest of the year will have less drama than the ups and downs we’ve been experiencing since January. The federal government will more or less operate on schedule, the federal debt limit fight has been pushed back to the end of the year, and President Donald J. Trump has successfully reached out to Democrats.

What a week. When it began, I wrote: “Congress is back today and one of two things will happen: It will either do its work or all hell will break loose.” But I was off. It wasn’t exactly Congress doing its job, it was the president. He bypassed his own Republican party leaders (catching them off-guard by all accounts) and struck a deal with Democrats in the House and Senate to fund government for the rest of the year and push the debt limit fight back until December.

This is exactly what the president should have been doing all along. This is governing. It means, for now, at least, that he’s reaching out to the majority in Congress (moderate Republicans plus the Democrats) instead of catering to the far right wing of the party. It’s smart politics. But it’s also dangerous because his action undermined both House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. If it’s a one-time event, Ryan and McConnell will get over the snub. But if this is the new way of doing business, well, then, there will be a different kind of drama ahead.

There is also movement this week on the Republican plans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. According to The Hill newspaper, John McCain now favors legislation proposed by Senators Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, and Bill Cassidy, R-Louisiana. This plan would push more of the decision making about health care to the states through block grants. It would even let states keep many aspects of the Affordable Care Act such as Medicaid expansion, as long as they’re willing to pay for the extra costs. That’s a deal breaker.

The problem for the Indian health system in such a scheme is that states neither understand nor want to invest the resources required. The ideal scenario would be for Indian Country to be a 51st state and get funding directly. But that’s not a part of the legislative proposal.

This bill would have to be considered fast under Senate rules. The current set-up is to vote on a replacement plan using the budget reconciliation process. That only requires 50 votes instead of the more common 60 vote standard (to interrupt a filibuster). The Senate parliamentarian has ruled that reconciliation goes away on Sept. 30 unless there is a new budget in place. That’s unlikely.

Another health care issue that impacts Indian Country is the reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Plan or CHIP. The current law expires Sept. 30. It pays for the insurance of 8.9 million children through Medicaid. The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that “Medicaid plays a more expansive role for American Indian and Alaska Native children than adults, covering more than half of American Indian and Alaska Native children (54%) versus 23% of nonelderly adults.” CHIP would be included in that number.

CHIP also pays for school programs and other health care outreach efforts. The federal Centers for Medicaid and Medicare said: “In 2014, CMS awarded $3.9 million in CHIPRA grants to engage schools and tribal agencies in Medicaid and CHIP outreach and enrollment activities. Grantees included Indian Health Service organizations, tribal health providers, and urban Indian health providers across 7 states.”

Important stuff. We need another presidential deal with Democrats. Quickly.

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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President Trump speaks to Congress; budget plan shifts billions to military

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Deborah Parker will be a witness to the president’s speech to Congress Tuesday night as the guest of Wisconsin Rep. Gwen Moore.

A reminder about what’s at stake from Congressional gallery

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

President Donald J. Trump is set to deliver a financial blow to Indian Country. His first budget will propose cuts of at least $54 billion and an amount that he will add to Defense Spending.

The president will check off his promises from the campaign (even those that make no sense), according to Politico.  “He’s doing what he said he was going to do.”

The budget cuts will come on top of already lean federal spending based on the budget deal that Congress made in 2011 resulting in the sequester. The budget specifics have not been released yet, but to give you an idea about how steep these cuts are, the entire Interior Department budget is $14 billion. So to reach the $54 billion total there would have to be federal programs eliminated.

And that math is a problem. “Accounting for the increase in Veterans Administration (VA) funding that Congress has already approved for 2018 and assuming that Congress doesn’t cut funding for the Department of Homeland Security below current levels, the cut to all other non-defense discretionary programs would be 15 percent,” writes Sharon Parrott, a senior fellow at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. ” And if Congress raises homeland security funding above this year’s level, as is likely (news reports indicate the Administration will boost funding for border security), or if Congress raises VA funding further (which is also likely), cuts in other Non-Defense, Domestic areas would have to be even deeper.”

Several reports say the White House is planning a cut of 25 to 30 percent for the Environmental Protection Administration, the State Department, and the Department of Energy. Of course Congress, not the president, has the final word. And there is already problems on that front. Many conservatives are not happy that this budget leaves in tact entitlement programs, such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. What’s more: There are Republicans in the House and Senate who will push back against the steep cuts at the agencies. Basically this represents the White House’s opening bid.

One program the White House wants to wipe out is the Justice Department’s Violence Against Women Act office. That agency funds tribal governments “respond to violent crimes against Indian women, enhance victim safety, and develop education and prevention strategies.”  The program funded 53 domestic violence programs last year at a cost of some $33 million.

Deborah Parker, former vice chair of the Tulalip Tribes, will be in the House gallery for the joint session. She was invited by Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Wisconsin, to act as a reminder that the president’s agenda will hurt real people across the country. Parker is an important voice for Native American women on domestic violence issues. She worked tirelessly to get the Violence Against Women Act reauthorized in 2013 and to make sure that Indian Country was included in its provisions. The most controversial part of the law was the recognition of tribal jurisdiction over non-Indians for domestic violence crimes. The number of prosecutions since the law has been enacted remains small as tribes have been slow to incorporate VAWA into tribal codes.

And wiping out the Justice Department program that funds such efforts will only make that transition more difficult. But there are many allies in Congress for the program and there will be a fight to continue funding this effort.

Parker said she was told she was invited by Rep. Moore because she was “tired of how the Trump administration was treating Native Americans, including Native women. The way he’s treated Standing Rock, the way he’s treated women in general.” Rep. Moore wanted a symbolic gesture, inviting a Native American woman to the Joint Session.

And the bad news ahead? “I am going to pray about it. Prayer is what gets us through everything,” Parker said. “I am going to pray for everyone in that room that they open their ears, their minds, their hearts, to the heartbeat of these lives of the nation.”

Parker said “you never know what to expect when you go to DC.” But she plans on talking to every member of Congress who will listen about the issues facing tribal communities. “Show your face. Being present is a big thing, a Native person present and being able to speak with a member. Not everyone knows the issues. But as long as you are there to shake their hand, let them know who you are, and, to remember the indigenous peoples of these lands. That’s a place to start.”

President Trump’s talking points include an “an optimistic vision for the country that crosses the traditional lines of party, race and socioeconomic status.” The president’s speech will “reach out to Americans living in the poorest and most vulnerable communities, and let them know that help is on the way.”

Empty words when the budget cuts the White House is proposing will only make life more difficult for millions of Americans.

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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Journalism Fail: Standing Rock arrest puts the First Amendment on trial

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Native American media have been quick to jump to the defense of journalist Jenni Monet. She was arrested near Standing Rock last week. But most of the press has been silent about the charges she faces (and the implications for the First Amendment). Photo: Aboriginal People’s Television Network.

Jenni Monet faces criminal trespass and rioting charges

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

Jenni Monet, a Native American journalist, was arrested last week while covering Standing Rock. You’d think that would trigger a lot of support from the national and regional news media. 

There is an idea in law enforcement called the “thin blue line.” It basically means that police work together. A call goes out from Morton County and, right or wrong, law enforcement from around the country provides back up.

You would think journalism would be like that too.

When one journalist is threatened, we all are. We cannot do our jobs when we worry about being injured or worse. And when a journalist is arrested? Well, everyone who claims the First Amendment as a framework should object loudly.

Last Wednesday Monet was arrested near Cannonball, North Dakota. She was interviewing water protectors who were setting up a new camp near the Dakota Access Pipeline route on treaty lands of the Great Sioux Nation. Law enforcement from Morton County surrounded the camp and captured everyone within the circle. A press release from the sheriff’s Department puts it this way: “Approximately 76 members of a rogue group of protestors were arrested.”  Most were charged with criminal trespassing and inciting a riot.

As was Monet. She now faces serious charges and the judicial process will go forward. The truth must come out.

But this story is about the failure of journalism institutions.

The Native press and the institutions that carry her work had Monet’s back. That includes Indian Country Media Network, Yes! Magazine, and the Center for Investigative Reporting’s Reveal. In Canada the Aboriginal People’s Television Network reported on the story during its evening news. And, The Los Angeles Times has now weighed as well in with its own story written by Sandy Tolan who’s done some great reporting from Standing Rock. The Native American Journalists Association released a statement immediately: “Yesterday’s unlawful arrest of Native journalist Jenni Monet by Morton County officers is patently illegal and a blatant betrayal of our closely held American values of free speech and a free press,” NAJA President Bryan Pollard said, “Jenni is an accomplished journalist and consummate professional who was covering a story on behalf of Indian Country Today. Unfortunately, this arrest is not unprecedented, and Morton County officials must review their officer training and department policies to ensure that officers are able and empowered to distinguish between protesters and journalists who are in pursuit of truthful reporting.”

Yet in North Dakota you would not know this arrest happened. The press is silent. (UPDATE on Feb. 7: Bismarck Tribune reports on the arrest.)

I have heard from many, many individual journalists. That’s fantastic. But what about the institutions of journalism? There should news stories in print, digital and broadcast. There should be editorials calling out North Dakota for this egregious act. If the institutions let this moment pass, every journalist covering a protest across the country will be at risk of arrest.

After her release from jail, Monet wrote for Indian Country Media Network, “When Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodman was charged with the same allegations I now face—criminal trespassing and rioting—her message to the world embraced the First Amendment. ‘There’s a reason why journalism is explicitly protected by the U.S. Constitution,’ she said before a crowd gathered in front of the Morton County courthouse. “Because we’re supposed to be the check and balance on power.”

The funny thing is that journalism institutions were not quick to embrace Goodman either. I have talked to many journalists who see her as an “other” because she practices a different kind of journalism than they do.

Monet’s brand of journalism is rooted in facts and good reporting. She talks to everyone on all sides of the story, including the Morton County Sheriff and North Dakota’s new governor. She also has street cred … and knows how to tell a story. Just listen to her podcast — Still Here — and you will know that to be true.

So if we ever need journalism institutions to rally, it’s now. It’s not Jenni Monet who will be on trial. It’s the First Amendment. Journalism is not a crime. 

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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The president’s logic on the Dakota Access Pipeline: Because I said so.

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Announcement of order by Acting Army Secretary was posted on the web site of North Dakota Sen. John Hoeven on Jan. 31. (Screenshot of Senator’s home page.)

Tribe says Corps does not have authority to stop environmental review

 

**Updated Feb. 8, 2017

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

Cognitive scientist George Lakoff once described the process for Republican thinking. It’s a set of assumptions built on the idea of a strict father.

He wrote in his classic book, Don’t Think of an Elephant, “The strict father model begins with a set of assumptions: The world is a dangerous place, and always will be, because there is evil out there in the world. The world is also difficult because it is competitive. There will always be winners and losers. There is an absolute right and an absolute wrong. Children are born bad, in the sense that they just want to do what feels good, not what is right. Therefore they have to be made good.”

Donald J. Trump is the strict father who runs his family — and in this case, the United States — on the model that all he needs to say to defend any action is “because I said so.” The president’s executive memorandum on Standing Rock is exhibit one.

“Today, the Acting Secretary of the Army Robert Speer informed us that he has directed the Army Corps of Engineers to proceed with the easement needed to complete the Dakota Access Pipeline,” North Dakota Sen. John Hoeven said in a news release. “This will enable the company to complete the project, which can and will be built with the necessary safety features to protect the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and others downstream. Building new energy infrastructure with the latest safeguards and technology is the safest and most environmentally sound way to move energy from where it is produced to where people need it.”

Just like that. The Corps is supposed to walk away from a process already underway, the Environmental Impact Statement and the public comment period that is open until Feb. 20, 2017. (The Army has since announced that it is withdrawing its environmental review and approving the easement immediately.)

This is now a test of the federal courts. Will that institution follow the order of the acting secretary, and the president, or will it insist on the conclusion of the environmental review that’s underway.

First: It’s interesting that th announcement came from a U.S. Senator and not the agency itself.

The Federal Register, the rule book for government, published a plan for the review process on Jan. 18. Yes, there is a new administration, but that does not (or should not) change the rules. The notice, unlike the president’s memorandum, cites the statutory authority for moving forward. This is more than you want to read … but here goes: “This notice is published in accordance with sections 1503.1 and 1506.6 of the CEQ’s Regulations (40 CFR parts 1500-1508) implementing the procedural requirements of NEPA, as amended (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.), and the Army and Corps’ NEPA implementation policies (32 CFR part 651 and 33 CFR part 230), and exercises the authority delegated to the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works) by General Orders No. 2017-1, January 5, 2017.”

Of course this action will also open a new round of litigation. That will be the test of the independence of the federal judiciary. Will federal judges tell the president no? Will litigation even be allowed (strange as those words sound)? The Trump administration and North Dakota certainly hopes not. That process takes too long in a world run by oil gadzillionaires.

A statement by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Tuesday said: “The Army Corps lacks statutory authority to simply stop the EIS and issue the easement. The Corps must review the Presidential Memorandum, notify Congress, and actually grant the easement.We have not received formal notice that the EIS has been suspended or withdrawn. To abandon the EIS would amount to a wholly unexplained and arbitrary change based on the President’s personal views and, potentially, personal investments. We stand ready to fight this battle against corporate interest superseding government procedure and the health and well being of millions of Americans.”

Sen. Hoeven said “we need to bring (this dispute) to a peaceful resolution.” Yet the president’s action, the order by the acting secretary of the Army Corps of Engineers, and the very idea of a strict father shouting, because I said so,” is not how to make a peaceful resolution.

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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North Dakota’s new governor misses Standing Rock moment

A YouTube video from North Dakota’s new Gov. Doug Burgum. More of the same about Standing Rock.

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

There is that moment when we take the plastic protection off a new phone screen. Everything was perfect until we peel it away. Then fingerprints, scratches, and the business of life take hold. That new thing is never the same.

That’s exactly where Doug Burgum was as the new governor of North Dakota. He could have taken that screen and made certain that there was a new image of North Dakota for the world to see.

Damn. Think about what was possible: A governor who is framing his entire administration on innovation just dismissed the most disruptive force in his state’s recent history. That is what Standing Rock is about. Instead of saying, “What can we learn from this? What can we do together?” The new governor relied on the screen saver that was there before; the idea that powerful forces will roll over the tribe and build the Dakota Access Pipeline without interference. Thank you.

Burgum also scratched away at an old story: The Obama administration created this problem.

But his larger message is that the state of North Dakota and its corporate partners are more powerful than any tribal government. Instead of a pause, a moment to engage in a government-to-government dialogue, the new governor emphatically says the pipeline will get built soon. No. Matter. What.

“Make no mistake, this infrastructure is good for our economy,” the governor said in his YouTube video. “And it’s the safest way to transport North Dakota products. Failure to finish it would send a chilling signal to those in any industry who wish invest in our state and play by the rules.”

But the rules are complicated. And the court cases are not resolved. In fact the governor could have taken advantage of the litigation schedule to begin an open dialogue. Even more important: The prospect of more litigation is growing and that is something that will not be resolved by the Trump administration. It will take time.

The new governor could have reset the law enforcement battle lines too. Nope. “As a result of the Obama administration’s refusal to uphold the rule of law on federally owned land, both our citizens and local and state law enforcement have been put in harm’s way,” he said. “These actions are putting daily demands on the scarce resources of our state and local government.”

Those daily demands are because the state of North Dakota made it so. Pick a word: defuse, de-escalate, negotiate. There were so many better alternatives, ones that were dismissed in favor of sending in the cavalry. I have interviewed many government officials over the years that successfully reduced tension instead of using the police powers of a state. In every test the state failed in this regard and the new governor is following the same path.

I had hopes that Gov. Burgum would see the potential of the Standing Rock story as one that could make North Dakota a beacon. Think about this: This moment in history has brought indigenous people together in a way that’s unprecedented. And the world is paying attention to that. What an amazing opportunity, something that could stir the imagination of investors, entrepreneurs, and governments. Potential partners in a state that found a solution by working with tribes to solve an intractable problem.

The former governor blamed social media for this global perception. But that misses the point that the Standing Rock Tribe owns the story. And that won’t change because the new governor posts a video his account. The problem is not social media. It’s the message that the State of North Dakota will use the rule of law, the police power of a state, to roll over a tribal nation. It’s a message of brut force instead of inspiration. 

A missed opportunity? Sadly, yes. The governor says he will meet with tribes. But in North Dakota the context is business as usual. The plastic is off. And the new screen is already scratched.

 

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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Sometimes the stars do align: Peggy Flanagan and a run for Congress

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Rep. Peggy Flanagan’s Twitter profile picture. She represents Minnesota’s District 46A and could soon be a candidate for Congress.

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

Sometimes the stars do align. The short version: Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison is campaigning to chair the Democratic National Committee. If he wins, that opens up a congressional seat in a special election. And, state Rep. Peggy Flanagan is thinking about running.

Now, the details.  Ellison represents Minneapolis and some of the suburbs, including St. Louis Park and, as he puts it in his biography, is “one of the most vibrant and ethnically diverse districts in Minnesota.” He’s often a leader of the  Congressional Progressive Caucus for the 113th Congress and is often a voice for justice on issues ranging from financial services to Standing Rock.

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Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minnesota.

Ellison wrote last week on Facebook:

“After months of protests, I’m inspired by this victory by thousands of indigenous activists and Water Protectors, and millions of Americans who support them. This is a victory for all people who fight for social justice. And it is a victory won by the power of peaceful protest – a reminder of what people can do when they stand up and organize.

We use environmental impact statements to understand how key projects will impact our environment and communities. I hope that Energy Transfer Partners, and most importantly, the next Administration, recognize the concerns raised by the Standing Rock Tribe.

I also want to acknowledge that the responsibility for this project falls on the Energy Transfer board room, not the workers who are simply trying to do their jobs. Working Americans need our support as well. That’s why I support a broad infrastructure package that creates good jobs for millions of American workers.

We have a responsibility to respect the sovereignty of the Standing Rock Tribe, and to ensure their voices are heard. And we must ensure that the millions of people who depend on the Missouri and Cannonball rivers have access to clean water. As the Water Protectors at Standing Rock remind us every day: Water Is Life.”

This is not exactly the message we have been hearing from the Democratic National Committee. Instead, since the summer, when the presidential campaign was at its height, we heard statements about protecting peaceful protest and workers (without a definition of what was meant).  The Democratic Party has been trying to represent corporate patrons (including those who build and fund pipelines) as well as some of its core constituent groups. That no longer works. If it ever did. In this age of social media and transparency, the people are demanding more accountability and a clear sense of direction about social justice.

And that’s the basis of Ellison’s campaign, building a party that champions grass roots efforts. He said last week: “The Democratic Party must be the party that delivers for working people. We can do that by meeting folks where they are, looking them in the eye, treating them with respect, and working to solve their problems. For me, that means a chair with only one full time commitment.”

So that means Ellison (unlike former DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Shultz) would give up his congressinal seat. “I have decided to resign as a member of Congress if I win the election for DNC chair. Whoever wins the DNC chair race faces a lot of work, travel, planning and resource raising. I will be ‘all-in’ to meet the challenge.”

Ellison was a strong candidate before his announcement last week. But since then he is earning more endorsements from elected Democrats. According to Politico, supporters now include: Reps. John Lewis, Raul Grijalva, Luis Gutierrez and Tulsi Gabbard, a former DNC vice chair, as well as Sens. Martin Heinrich, Bernie Sanders, Chuck Schumer, Elizabeth Warren, and on Thursday, the AFL-CIO also announced its endorsement.

The election of the DNC chair will happen at the party’s winter meeting, sometime before March 2017. There are at least two other candidates:  Raymond Buckley, a NH party leader, and Jaime Harrison, chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party. There are other potential candidates as well, including Labor Secretary Thomas Perez.

And that’s the stage setting a Peggy Flanagan run for Congress.

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Flanagan’s entry into the race would be historic. She’s a member of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe and she would be the first American Indian woman ever elected to Congress. That sentence is in itself remarkable when you think about this country’s history and the contributions from so many Native women. Montana and Arizona could, should, have broken that barrier in 2016 by electing Denise Juneau and Victoria Steele. But the geography and the timing weren’t there. Sometimes elections require a bit more, well, luck.

And Minnesota’s fifth congressional district could be the spot. As Ellison’s biography says, it’s one of the most vibrant and ethnically diverse districts in Minnesota. This is a place where voters would appreciate, even celebrate, the historical significance of this first. After all this is a state that just elected four Native women to its Legislature. Another record.

Flanagan also has the ideal background for this job. She’s been an organizer working on social justice issues for more than a decade. More than that: She teaches other people how to win campaigns and elections for Wellstone Action and The Management Center (an organization working for social change). She was executive director of the Children’s Defense Fund-Minnesota.

And, if that’s not enough, she knows how to win a special election. She was elected to the Minnesota House in 2015 when Rep. Ryan Winkler moved out of the country. She jumped into the race early, ran unopposed, and earned 96.4 percent of the vote.

It’s not likely that Flanagan will run unopposed for a congressional seat. But she is already getting early support on social media. (Hashtag: #RunPeggyRun.)

Former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak Jr. posted this on Twitter: “Wow! It would be great to have one of the best young leaders in the country be my rep in Congress.” He’s not alone. Others have expressed their fondness for Ellison and then say Flanagan is the right candidate to build on that legacy.

In politics timing is everything. Sometimes the stars do align.

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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Op-Ed: Standing Rock is historic win for Native American religious freedom

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The message from Standing Rock is a rare win for religious freedom. (Photo by Dale Kakkak, News From Indian Country.)

By Charles C. Haynes / The Newseum Institute

On Dec. 4, the two-year struggle by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to protect their sacred land and water ended — at least for now — when the Obama administration denied the easement needed to complete the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The cancelled route, located one half mile from the tribe’s reservation in North and South Dakota, would have allowed the pipeline to cross under the Missouri River, a action that the tribe believes would threaten their life-giving water and destroy sacred sites.

Human rights advocates are savoring the moment. In the long, ugly history of persecution, exploitation, broken treaties, unkept promises and adverse court decisions, the victory at Standing Rock is a rare win for Native American religious freedom.

What is considered sacred by indigenous peoples — including, in this case, water, burial sites, sacred gathering spaces — has been, at various times in our history, debased, mocked, bulldozed or completely ignored by government officials and courts. In fact, for much of our history, many Native American ceremonies were illegal and people were imprisoned for practicing their religion.

The First Amendment’s Free Exercise clause is supposed to protect all religious groups, including those with rites and rituals rejected, feared or misunderstood by the majority. But the Supreme Court has often failed to treat Native American religious practices on a level playing field with other religious claims. In fact, Native Americans have never won a Free Exercise case at the U.S. Supreme Court.

Consider the 1988 Supreme Court decision in Lyng v. Northwest Indian Cemetery Protective Association. At issue was a plan by the U.S. Forest Service to build a road and harvest timber in a section of the Six Rivers National Forest considered sacred by the Yurok, Karok and Tolowa tribes. 

Although the justices acknowledged that the development plan would effectively destroy an entire religion, the Court ruled 5-3 that the constructing the road would not violate the free exercise of the tribes. As a result, Native Americans now have little recourse under the Constitution as they battle to preserve sacred sites on federally owned land.

Centuries of religious tradition can be wiped out — and invoking the First Amendment does nothing to prevent it.

Against the backdrop of this sad history, Native American protesters — calling themselves “water protectors” — gathered by the thousands and would not be moved. Representatives from more than 300 tribes flocked to Standing Rock, joined by human rights activists, veterans and ordinary citizens who know injustice when they see it.

Sprayed with water cannons in freezing weather, pelted with rubber bullets, tear gas and concussion grenades, the water protectors attempted to open a bridge barricaded by police, arguing that the barrier blocked emergency services from reaching their camp and the nearby Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.

Fortunately, tribal elders defused that confrontation. But more serious conflicts were anticipated after state officials gave the protesters a Dec. 5 deadline to leave the area; an order protesters promised to defy. The Obama administration’s action on Dec. 4 ended the standoff, handing Native Americans a rare religious freedom victory.

Not surprisingly, proponents of the Dakota Access Pipeline are outraged. Energy Transfer Partners, builders of the pipeline, accused the Obama administration of “currying favor with a narrow and extreme political constituency” by halting the project. North Dakota Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer described the move as a “chilling signal to others who want to build infrastructure.”

Given the political clout of pipeline supporters, the tribes are aware that their victory is fragile — and could be undone after Jan. 20. A spokesman for Donald Trump has already announced that the president-elect supports completing the pipeline and will revisit the Obama administration’s decision once he is in the White House.

What the new administration will soon discover, however, is that the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, supported by hundreds of tribes from across the country, will not fold their tents and quietly disappear. If construction resumes, threatening sacred water and land, the protest camps will grow in size and strength.

The Trump administration will face a stark choice: Once again remove Native Americans by force — or, at long last, protect Native Americans to preserve and practice their religion on land they hold sacred.

Charles C. Haynes is vice president of the Newseum Institute and founding director of the Religious Freedom Center. Contact him via email at chaynes@newseum.org. Follow him on Twitter at @hayneschaynes

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Standing Rock Tribe defied history; what happens next is anything but inevitable

 

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Amazing day at the Oceti Sakowin Camp as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers denies an easement for the Dakota Access Pipeline. It’s a huge victory for the Water Protectors. (Photo by Dale Kakkak, News From Indian Country.)

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has defied history.

Nearly two years ago the Dakota Access Pipeline and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers told the tribe about an inevitable pipeline that would cross near their reservation and within treaty lands. The tribe objected. But it was inevitable. A done deal.

And in April the Camp of the Sacred Stones was set up as a center by LaDonna Brave Bull Allard as a center for spiritual resistance. Crazy, right? A few people standing together cannot do anything against the absolute power of the state of North Dakota and the oil company billionaires who want this done. Inevitable. A done deal.

Then in August Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II defied state authorities and was arrested in the pipeline’s path. He told Indian Country Today Media Network:  “The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is doing everything it can legally, through advocacy and by speaking directly to the powers that be who could have helped us before construction began.” So what? The $3.8 billion pipeline was inevitable. A done deal.

Then in September the tribe and its allies won a battle when the Obama administration said it would review the matter. “Construction of the pipeline on Army Corps land bordering or under Lake Oahe will not go forward at this time,” said the joint statement from the Department of Justice, the Department of the Interior, and the U.S. Army. “We request that the pipeline company voluntarily pause all construction activity within 20 miles east or west of Lake Oahe.”

But the Dakota Access Pipeline’s owners ignored that request. Why should they stop? This entire pipeline route was designed to avoid federal interference. So what if the federal government was reviewing the record. This project was inevitable. A done deal.

In fact a few days later, in an extraordinary exchange before the U.S. Court of Appeals, the company admitted that the process was incomplete.  Judge Thomas B. Griffith asked: “Why not wait until you see whether you’re going to get the easement?” asked the judge. “To a neutral outside observer, it looks like you’re forcing their hand … So it’s a gamble. You’re gambling you’re going to win.”

And why not gamble? The easement was inevitable. A done deal.

But inevitable blew up Sunday night. On the same weekend when thousands of veterans showed up to support Standing Rock, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said it will not grant the easement under Lake Oahe. And the corps will now require an Environmental Impact Statement.

So what now? That invincible force known as the oil industry is still out there, saying the project is inevitable.

U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer said: “Today’s unfortunate decision sends a very chilling signal to others who want to build infrastructure in this country. Roads, bridges, transmission lines, pipelines, wind farms and water lines will be very difficult, if not impossible, to build when criminal behavior is rewarded this way.”

(Remember the company was proceeding without an easement.)

And from Washington, the president of the National Association of Manufacturers Jay Timmons said the decision “defies logic, science and sound policy-decision making, and the consequences can be measured in lost work for manufacturers and those in the manufacturing supply chain. If a project that has involved all relevant stakeholders and followed both the letter and spirit of the law at every step of this approval process can be derailed, what signal does that send to others considering building new energy infrastructure in this country? We can only hope that President-elect Trump will stand by his promises to invest aggressively in new infrastructure in America and start by overturning this misguided decision and allow the completion of the pipeline.”

There we go again. Inevitable. A done deal. If only the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, the Cheyenne River Tribe, hundreds of other tribes, and people from across the planet would not have got in the way.

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Exactly so. (Photo by Dale Kakkak, News From Indian Country)

 

But there are three critical things to think about in that chronology and the idea of the inevitable.

First, no energy company can roll over a community that’s united. And that’s all of the communities involved, not just the people of Standing Rock. As Chairman Archambault said today in a news release, “throughout this effort I have stressed the importance of acting at all times in a peaceful and prayerful manner.” 

Second, President-elect Donald J. Trump can revisit this issue. He probably will. But it will not be easily undone. I have been writing for months that President Obama would likely take this action but it had to be done in concert with the federal agencies involved. A president’s power is not absolute. (I am really interested in the structure of the Army Corps’ decision to see just how complex it will be for a Trump administration to unwind.)

Third, and most important, this is a moment when North Dakota can tell the world what it really wants to be. The timing is ideal for a new beginning.

Is this a state where the sheer power of police, looking like military, will roll over the legitimate interests of a community? Is this how you tell the world, come to North Dakota, invest, we’re open? Or, does the state now take advantage of this unique opportunity to show what can be done in a spirit of reconciliation. This is the time for the state to get serious about an environmental impact statement, a smarter route, to work with the tribes, end prosecutions, and pardon those who are in the criminal justice system now. Even better: Take one more step and build bridges by investing in the Standing Rock neighborhood.

This whole pipeline encounter was a fiasco that was a better story for the 19th century instead of the 21st. It represented the total breakdown in communications between the tribes and the State of North Dakota. However there’s now a path toward the healing that needs to occur. And that is what should be inevitable. A done deal. #HealNorthDakota

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

 

 

A powerful idea: The Rule of Law

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Four words that still matter

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

The Rule of Law. Four words that are cited over and over as the reason why the water protectors at Standing Rock should back away from their efforts to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline. The reasoning goes: The Rule of Law makes it ok to stand over there, hold a sign, until this dispute goes away. Shhh! Be quiet. The pipeline will be built as planned.

And on Monday, using a snow storm as an excuse, the governor dipped into his legal tools and called on the most powerful words in his arsenal. “I, Jack Dalrymple, Governor of the State of North Dakota, order a mandatory evacuation of all persons located in areas under the proprietary jurisdiction of the United States Army Corps of Engineers located in Morton County …”

The Rule of Law. The governor issued this proclamation knowing full well that none of the people at the camp will leave after his lofty proclamation. He knows that in order to enforce The Rule of Law there will have to be a massive law enforcement action where hundreds of people are rounded up and incarcerated.

And the word from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and its allies is as expected. “This state executive order is a menacing action meant to cause fear, and is a blatant attempt by the state and local officials to usurp and circumvent federal authority,” Chairman Dave Archambault II said in a news release. “The USACE has clearly stated that it does not intend to forcibly remove campers from federal property. The Governor cites harsh weather conditions and the threat to human life. As I have stated previously, the most dangerous thing we can do is force well-situated campers from their shelters and into the cold. If the true concern is for public safety than the Governor should clear the blockade and the county law enforcement should cease all use of flash grenades, high-pressure water cannons in freezing temperatures, dog kennels for temporary human jails, and any harmful weaponry against human beings. This is a clear stretch of state emergency management authority and a further attempt to abuse and humiliate the water protectors. The State has since clarified that they won’t be deploying law enforcement to forcibly remove campers, but we are wary that this executive order will enable further human rights violations.”

But that’s it. Every time the state of North Dakota and Morton County have had the opportunity to de-escalate, they favor the more violent course. Instead of crossing the bridge, acting as a governor of all the people, Dalrymple responded to the crisis by calling up the National Guard and then writing checks as fast as he could for more law enforcement to act as a military. The state’s clear and consistent message is comply or else.

And that’s because there is an urgency that’s driven by the corporate sponsors of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Truth be told: The Rule of Law takes too long. The pipeline has a schedule. So any disagreements about interpreting that rule of law must be accomplished as a matter of academic debate. The pipeline must be built. Now. (The company can’t even seem to wait for a court to rule on its own action.)

Then, The Rule of Law is such a funny phrase. One I have heard many times. It’s what was said in Washington, Oregon and Idaho when Native Americans insisted that treaties gave them the right to fish for salmon. The states disagreed and used the power of government to arrest people. Many, many Native people. Until finally the courts said, wait, the rule of law has to include the Constitution of the United States and the powerful article six that declares “treaties as the Supreme Law of the Land.” In the end the states were wrong. One idea that came out of that litigation was that treaties had to be read as the tribal negotiators would have understood the words.

Imagine that. So the Rule of Law means that the tribal interpretation of treaty language is critical to understanding, and implementing, that sacred agreement.

There is another parallel between the salmon fishing treaty battle in the Northwest a generation ago and the fight for clean water by the Standing Rock Tribe. There is no way that salmon would have survived as more than a curiosity had the tribes lost their treaty claims in the 1970s. States and tribes were forced to work together so that salmon could prosper. Before the courts weighed-in, there was an imbalance, caused by overfishing, over-building, and a lack of respect for the natural world. But the treaty forced the states to get serious about working with tribes and managing a scarce natural resource. The Rule of Law won.

And that is exactly what upholding a treaty could do for water in the Great Plains. Especially if the state subscribes to The Rule of Law.

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