#NativeVote16 – Republicans aren’t getting much attention or votes from Indian Country

Screenshot 2016-03-27 07.13.38
Rep. Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma, tells C-SPAN that a Paul Ryan candidacy remains a possibility even if unlikely.


Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

Who’s winning Indian Country this presidential election season?

On social media it is an intense debate. Sen. Bernie Sanders supporters point to Iowa, Oklahoma, Michigan, Nevada, and, after this weekend, Washington, Hawaii, and Alaska, as evidence that Natives are “feeling the Bern.” But Hillary Clinton backers can look at results from Nevada and Arizona and make a case for the former Secretary of State. (Yes, you can argue Nevada either way. There is just not enough evidence for a definitive answer.)

But one thing is certain: Indian Country is voting for Democrats. In Arizona’s Apache County, for example, which is mostly Navajo, Clinton had more votes than the entire GOP field; and Sanders nearly doubled the vote tally of first-place Donald Trump.

And that makes sense for two reasons. First, it fits historical patterns where tribal communities favor Democrats by large margins.

And, second, there are distinct policy differences between the two parties at the presidential level.

Sanders has incorporated Native American issues into his stump speech, including full-funding of the Indian Health Service. Unprecedented. Clinton has a track record in Indian Country that goes back a long ways, even before she was a political figure, and her administration would build on the successes of the Obama years.

And the Republican alternative? Chaos. Imagine a government as crazy as the primaries.

We don’t know much about any of the Republican plans for Indian Country. Except these shared themes: Government is bad, Keystone XL pipeline is good, and there would be a new military emphasis on defeating Daeish in Syria and Iraq.

But what if the Republican nominee is not Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, or even John Kasich?

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (House photo)

Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole raised the possibility of a Paul Ryan candidacy last week. He said it’s far more likely that one of the three remaining presidential candidates will be nominated, but if there is no consensus, then Ryan would be the logical choice.

“He’s already been vetted, he’s been on a national ticket, millions of people have already voted for him,” Cole said in an interview on C-SPAN. “Frankly, he does represent the kind of vision and values that as a Republican you would want to put forward.”

Ryan is Speaker of the House, and as such, chair of the Republican Convention. The only way he could win the nomination would be in Cleveland after the delegates failed to nominate one of the current candidates. (After the first ballot, delegates are free to wheel-and-deal.) Cole put it this way” “If you can’t win it outright before you get there, I don’t think anybody’s got it in the bag once you arrive. It’ll be very tumultuous. There will be multiple ballots unless somebody’s just literally inches away.”

Cole is a member of Oklahoma’s Chickasaw Tribe and a senior House Republican. (Previous: How a third-party candidate can win one state and the presidency.)

Ryan has proposed a radical rethinking of federal programs, including those that serve American Indians and Alaska Natives. He supports the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and has suggested it would be better to send money to states for Medicaid as a block grant. In 2014 as House Budget Chairman, Ryan published a  full review of federal programs that address poverty. “We need to take a hard look at what the federal government is doing and ask, ‘Is this working?’ This report will help start the conversation. It shows that some programs work; others don’t. And for many of them, we just don’t know.” His idea was to reshape the way government delivers programs and roll them together to save money.

So Ryan’s War on Poverty review lumped Indian Health Service funding in with other social programs. “The IHS was officially established within the Department of Health and Human Services in 1955 (then the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare) as part of the Transfer Act. But the federal initiatives designed to increase access to health services for tribal members existed as far back as 1830.” As I wrote at the time, what Ryan calls a “federal initiative,” I call a treaty obligation.

In general, a Ryan presidency would mean substantially less money for federal programs, including those that serve American Indians and Alaska Natives.

However Cole has in the past disputed that grim assessment. He told Indian Country Today Media Network: “This idea that a Ryan budget means cuts in Indian programs is simply not true. We have evidence that while it lowers overall government spending, it also allows us to reprioritize where the money goes. And on the House Appropriations Subcommittee for Interior and Environment, where I sit, there’s a bipartisan commitment to increasing funding in Indian country well beyond what the White House has asked for. We have a lot of people on both sides of the aisle who recognize the Indian country has been historically underfunded.”

Ryan also has a track record for reaching across the aisle and making a deal. The 2013 budget agreement with Washington Sen. Patty Murray provided at least some relief to the harsh budget measures found in the sequester.

Some relief? That’s hardly a winning campaign slogan.

Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports

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

#NativeVote16 – Story ideas range from climate issues to “the Native primary.”

Housekeeping. Planning day.

I am still researching and writing the energy and climate (part 3) post. I am giving a speech next week on this topic, so it’s a good time to finish the piece. There is a lot going on and it has election ramifications, especially because more federal spending will be required to keep up with damage and infrastructure needs associated with climate change.


Another piece I’d like to write soon is about how a third-place finisher could win the White House. As the presidential field narrows, we could be returning to the historical problem of a split electoral college. If there are three candidates and one of those candidates *cough * Ted Cruz * cough * can win a large state such as Texas that would be enough to prevent the other two candidates from winning 270 electoral votes. IF that happens, the House gets to pick the next president. The only constitutional criteria is that the next president will be chosen from top 3 finishers.


I have a cool idea. If I can find the time. So what if I pulled the precinct votes from Iowa, Nevada, and So Carolina, and created a “NativeVote16” primary election? I could add to a spreadsheet after every new primary. This would be a look at how Indian Country wants to be the next president using actual votes instead of polling.  (Any data wonks want to help?)


I am still working on a story/data/chart for state legislative candidates. I talked to a couple of candidates last week who told me they would be filing soon and I should hold off. I think I might wait until late March to get as many names as possible. (Previous story here.)


Finally I am pitching a couple of video stories to networks. Two purposes: Broader audience for #NativeVote16 stories. And, it will help me finance more stories. I’d especially like to have enough resources to cover party conventions this year. (Either that or I need to find a summer job.) (Previous video here. )

I posted a book outline and I have had talks with several book publishers and editors. There is not a lot of interest; mostly because of the time factor. I could produce the book myself (like I did with The Last Great Battle) but I would need to find outside money to make that happen. I am reviewing foundations that are interested in democracy & voting to see if that might be possible.

Feel free to weigh in with comments, suggestions and ideas.

That’s enough reflection. Back to work.

— Mark Trahant

#NativeVote16 – Battle over federal land surfaces in presidential debate

Rightful owners of Nevada’s land?




Mark Trahant


Ted Cruz just joined the Sage Brush Rebellion.

A new 30-second spot, “Nevada Land,” says the land belongs to the people of Nevada, “not Washington bureaucrats.”  To make his point Cruz features a picture of cattle grazing, presumably on federal lands.”If you trust me with your vote, I will return full control of Nevada’s lands to its rightful owners, its citizens. Count on it.”

Count on it? Rightful owners? The whole Sagebrush Rebel narrative misses the point that tribes in the region have called the area home for more than 10,000 years and if there’s any claim to rightful ownership then it’s the first owners who have the rightful claim.

Indeed at the MSNBC Town Hall on Thursday night, former Moapa Tribal Chairman William Anderson asked Sen. Bernie Sanders about more land that ought to have stronger federal protection.


“My people, the Nuwuvi, the Southern Paiutes here, we’re trying to go ahead work towards Gold Butte as a national monument too. There is a lot of recent issues that came up here, and what I want to really ask is is that there are those who oppose the American people’s ownership of public lands, and would see those lands sold to private interest. As president, how would you ensure that our public lands remain in public hands, and preserve our heritage and lives by stopping corporations from destroying Mother Earth? ”

Sanders answered the question broadly.

“I don’t have to explain to you, or I hope anybody in this room, or anybody watching the outrageous way, unfair way, that governments have treated Native Americans from day one. It is a disgrace.

“Number two, I will — you know, you’re raising issues in terms of extraction of fossil fuels, for example. I believe that climate change is one of the great challenges facing this planet, and what I have introduced legislation to do, by the way, it to say that we will not extract fossil fuels in the future from any public lands.

“Number three, I understand that it is absolutely important that the federal government do much more than it is now doing to work with the native american community in preserving their heritage, and their way of life. And, I will do everything I can to bring that about.

What is the Gold Butte issue about? It’s already federally-controlled land but a number of tribes, environmentalists, and Nevada cities have called for either presidential or congressional action to give permanent protection to the area’s wildlife, including desert tortoise, desert bighorn sheep, the banded Gila monster, great horned owls and a great variety of reptiles, birds and mammals, as well as protecting archaeological resources, including rock art, caves, agave roasting pits and camp sites that date back some 3,000 years.

Generally Republicans say the land should not have additional protection from the federal government and Democrats want legislation to make the monument status permanent. Nevada Sen. Dean Heller said last year that any federal action would be an escalation “in a region of our state where tensions are already presently high.”

But that’s also the point of Cruz’ new ad. He says Donald Trump is not sufficiently a rebel. Trump told Field and Stream magazine that he didn’t like the idea of the federal government turning over land to the states. “I want to keep the lands great, and you don’t know what the state is going to do. I mean, are they going to sell if they get into a little bit of trouble? And I don’t think it’s something that should be sold. We have to be great stewards of this land. This is magnificent land.”

Stewards? Magnificent land? For sage brush rebels those are fighting words. And Gold Butte just happens to be where one Cliven Bundy and his militia supporters forced the Bureau of Land Management to back off last year after threats of violence. Except the federal government was patient. Now it’s Bundy who’s awaiting trial. Perhaps that’s why Cruz tried to capture the spirit of the movement without mentioning any names.

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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Please credit: Mark Trahant / Trahantreports.com

#NativeVote16 – Connecting to tribal voters in Nevada

Fascinating profile of young Native American voters in Nevada by Tristan Ahtone (On Twitter: @Tahtone ). This video is worth watching; story raises the kinds of questions that candidates and journalism organizations should be asking.



So should candidates for president really campaign on reservations in such a close contest? As reported in the piece, Nevada is only about 2 percent Native. So this near the caucus a visit to a tribal community doesn’t make a lot of sense (except, perhaps, where the delegate rewards are rich, such as Walker River Paiute.)

But. And this is huge. This is something both candidates could have done before Iowa, before their world got crazy, when they actually had time to listen. (Sanders is in Elko today, so some tribal issues may surface.) Still, an early visit to Schurz or Owyhee would helped the candidates see Indian Country in a new light.

— Mark Trahant






#NativeVote16 – Nevada is a sea of red, while most of the voters are blue

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Nevada is a sea of red, while more and more voters are blue. Final 2008 tally. Democrats will caucus on Saturday Feb. 20. Because of party rules, American Indians who participate in the Democratic Party caucus have extra voting power.  (Secretary of State graphic.)


Walker River Paiutes win in a caucus system

Mark Trahant


Let’s be clear about the Nevada Democratic Caucus next Saturday: It’s not democratic. The outcome of the caucus will be determined by a long list of rules ranging from geography to the number of people who voted in the last election.

This is not a one-person, one-vote ballot. It will be more like a neighborhood jam session where someone from a community is elected a delegate to a county convention on April 2. Then at those meetings more delegates are elected to the state party’s convention. Then another vote selecting delegates to the Democratic National Convention in July.

So it’s possible for a candidate to have a strong showing on “caucus day” and end up with fewer delegates than the other side. That’s exactly what happened eight years ago when Hillary Clinton won the Nevada caucus (with 51 percent of the vote) only to earn three fewer delegates than Barack Obama.

“When the rules and ratios regarding delegate apportionment were designed for Nevada, the intent of legislators was to slightly favor smaller, more rural counties,” wrote Cory Warfield, who is the state party’s caucus director. “These counties will generally have a disproportionate number of delegates compared to larger counties.”

And in rural Nevada, that means American Indian voters have a bit more say in the outcome.

The Walker River Paiute Reservation is one winner in the caucus system.

Most of the tribe’s membership lives near Schurz in Mineral County, roughly 1,200 people. In 2008 only 75 people attended the caucus yet under party rules that county’s vote counts more than 75 people in, say, Reno. This is a party description of the rule:  “The results of the ratio formula will be rounded up at 0.5 or higher and rounded down below 0.5. Here’s an example of how it works: Mineral County has 1,089 registered Democrats, which falls under precinct apportionment category D: 1 delegate per 15 registered Democrats in each precinct. Precinct 1 in Mineral County has 124 Democrats, which is divided by 15 and rounded down to determine that the precinct receives 8 delegates.”

To put that in plain English: Rural counties have extra voting power and that’s particularly important in counties where most of the non-Indians vote Republican. So if tribal members show up, they get to pick the winner in Mineral County.

The party is explicit in this weighted vote toward rural voters. The same memo cites this example: Esmeralda County has 122 Democrats and 25 delegates, while Lincoln County has 711 Democrats and 71 delegates. Lincoln County has more more than five times the number of registered Democrats compared to Esmeralda County, but less than three times the number of delegates.

There are 27 tribes in Nevada, and, unlike in most states, that includes tribal governments that are based both in rural and urban areas, such as Reno and Las Vegas.

Nevada is becoming more and more a state that favors Democrats because of the population growth in urban areas — and the increasing diversity of the state.

Both the Clinton and the Sanders campaign say they are organized across the state and in tribal communities. The Clinton campaign has been in Nevada for months and has had listening sessions across the state. But which side is more organized, both for the caucus,  and for the delegate election process that follows? We won’t know the answer until summer.

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


Winning Indian Country


An irreverent guide to the 2016 elections

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Theme: Democracy is so worth a try


One: Ten reasons why every American Indian and Alaska Native should vote

Why vote? It takes planning, some time, and the rewards are not always visible. The same problems will surround American Indians and Alaska Natives before and after the election. Identifying reasons to vote. Examples big and small that show how we can make a difference.


Two: 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.
Three: 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.



Four: Difference between Democrats and Republicans

It’s often said there is no difference between Democrats and Republicans on issues that impact Indian Country. Chapter examines the two parties both in terms of history and current programs



Theme: Politics is about policy


Five: 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.


Six: Money in the cup: 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.


Seven: 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).



Eight: Climate change

What if we climate policies were on the ballot? Voters could look at the alternatives, weigh the costs, and a solution of some sort would move forward. Unfortunately that’s not likely to happen because of the politics of geography. Geography trumps politics: Some of the Republicans facing re-election in states like Maine or Illinois are closer to the Obama administration than their own party. And, in states like Alaska, Montana, and North Dakota, there are few Democrats keen on making a climate referendum. Most Democrats in energy states run on the pretense that the country doesn’t have to make hard decisions about jobs and the environment.


Nine: 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


Ten: 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).


Eleven: The People’s House, who’s running and where can Natives win

Denise Juneau has already won a statewide office in Montana. Now she’s a candidate for the state’s only congressional seats. Across the country at least seven Native Americans are running for the House. Look at each of the candidates as well as the districts where Native candidates should be successful.


Twelve: Alaska and the winning coalition

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.


Thirteen: 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.



Fourteen: 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.



Fifteen: Going viral — when elections are 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.


Sixteen: The road to the White House is red

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. What have I missed?


Appendix data

Map and spreadsheet of Candidates, elected to Congress

Map and spreadsheet of Elected state legislatures

Map and spreadsheet of Elected to city, state and county offices



#NativeVote16 – The Road to the White House is red, brown, black and young

Screenshot 2015-12-13 13.46.41

The final Electoral College tally in 2012. President Barack Obama won re-election with 332 electoral votes to Republican Mitt Romney’s 206 votes. This is how to think about 2016: Which states will be in play? Which candidate can build the winning coalition? (National Archives graphic.)


Confused by the 2016 presidential campaign?


It’s easy to get confused by this year’s campaign for president. If you get information from watching television or from Internet rumblings, you might think Republicans are driving toward a massive victory. And why not? Donald Trump packs thousands of people into every one of his rallies and the television ratings for G.O.P. debates are ginormous. So this must be the Republican year, right?

The problem with that narrative is that it misses the demographic shift that’s been occurring in America.

Fact is any Republican candidate for president starts off in a deep hole. To win a candidate will have to erase a structural deficit. Sure, it’s possible, but it’s also growing more unlikely because of the tone coming from the 2016 campaign so far. Why the deep hole? When Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980 the population of the United States was 80 percent white. Today it’s about 63 percent white.

One demographic profile of voters by The National Journal shows how dramatically the country has changed since Reagan’s landslide. He won with the support 56 percent of white voters in 1980. “But in 2012, when non­white voters ac­coun­ted for 28 per­cent of the elect­or­ate, Mitt Rom­ney took 59 per­cent of white voters—and lost the pres­id­en­tial race by 4 per­cent­age points. Without a total brand makeover, how can Re­pub­lic­ans ex­pect to pre­vail with an even more di­verse electorate in 2016?”

The country’s diversity trend is just beginning. The U.S. Census reports that American Indians and Alaska Natives grew 1.4 percent since 2013, compared to 0.5 percent for whites. “Even more diverse than millennials are the youngest Americans: those younger than 5 years old. In 2014, this group became majority-minority for the first time, with 50.2 percent being part of a minority race or ethnic group,” the Census said. So in 13 years the majority of new voters will be people of color and in twenty-five years a majority of all voters.

The GOP’s demographic challenge

The Republicans have a long term problem.

“Based on estimates of the composition of the 2016 electorate, if the next GOP nominee wins the same share of the white vote as Mitt Romney won in 2012 (59 percent), he or she would need to win 30 percent of the nonwhite vote,” Dan Balz recently wrote in The Washington Post. “Set against recent history, that is a daunting obstacle. Romney won only 17 percent of nonwhite voters in 2012. John McCain won 19 percent in 2008. George W. Bush won 26 percent in 2004.”

It’s important to remember, however, that presidential elections are 50 separate state elections that determine the electoral college vote. So ignore every poll you see that compares one Republican versus one Democrat.  Instead think: Which states?

And it’s in these state contests where the American Indians and Alaska Native voters are becoming more important, especially as part of a coalition.

Nevada is a good place to start examining these trends. In 2012, Nevada voters were about 65 percent white. Next year’s voters are projected to drop to about 60 percent. So it will be possible to build a winning coalition made up of  some white voters (a third or so) plus significant majorities from Latino, African American, Asian American and Native Americans.

Other states where such coalitions are possible: Alaska, Arizona, Wisconsin, and, eventually, Oklahoma.

The web site Five Thirty Eight has a nifty electronic interactive calculator that lets you project election scenarios. What happens if more minority voters turn out? Think landslide. More important: Break down the Republican constituencies and see where that party’s strength comes from. “Whites without college degrees are now the bedrock of the Republican coalition: They voted for Mitt Romney 62 percent to 36 percent in 2012,” Five Thirty Eight reports. “However, their share of the electorate is rapidly shrinking: They skew older and more rural, and we project that their share of the national vote will fall to 33 percent in 2016, down from 36 percent in 2012. Nonetheless, they still factor heavily in battleground states such as IowaNew HampshireOhio and Wisconsin.”

What’s striking about this election so far is that the Republican candidates are not trying to build a coalition with minority voters, young voters, or even fix the gender gap that’s been a problem for decades.

Millennials are now the largest age group – some 90 million people – and are more independent than previous generations. Most millennials lean toward the Democrats, but even those who say they are Republican see the world very differently than today’s Republican candidates. Pew Research Center found: “The generational divisions among Republicans span different dimensions of political values. Some of the most striking generational differences within Republicans concern social issues like homosexuality and immigration, but younger Republicans are also less conservative when it comes to values related to the environment, role of government, the social safety net and the marketplace.”

So as we enter 2016 it’s important to discount the news coming from the campaign. It’s going to be a crazy year with all sorts of scenarios possible ranging from fights at the conventions to third-party runs. Sure, it’s even possible, that one of the Republican candidates will whip up magic and unite a coalition of voters. But that would take words designed to reach consensus with the new majority of voters. There will be another GOP debate Tuesday. (I will be live tweeting.) Watch and see if even one candidate recognizes that the road to the White House is red, brown, black and young.

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










#NativeVote16 – Press release: Nisqually Leaders Applaud President Obama’s Honoring of Billy Frank, Jr.


Fish Wars
Billy Frank, Jr.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                   


Nisqually Leaders Applaud President Obama’s Honoring of Billy Frank, Jr.


NISQUALLY, WA (11/16/15)—Leaders of the Nisqually Indian Tribe rejoiced at today’s naming of Billy Frank Jr., late Nisqually tribal leader, as one of 17 recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the Nation’s highest civilian honor, presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors. The awards will be presented at the White House on November 24th.

President Obama said, “I look forward to presenting these 17 distinguished Americans with our nation’s highest civilian honor. From public servants who helped us meet defining challenges of our time to artists who expanded our imaginations, from leaders who have made our union more perfect to athletes who have inspired millions of fans, these men and women have enriched our lives and helped define our shared experience as Americans.”

The President’s announcement said, “Billy Frank, Jr. was a tireless advocate for Indian treaty rights and environmental stewardship, whose activism paved the way for the “Boldt decision,” which reaffirmed tribal co-management of salmon resources in the state of Washington. Frank led effective “fish-ins,” which were modeled after sit-ins of the civil rights movement, during the tribal “fish wars” of the 1960s and 1970s. His magnetic personality and tireless advocacy over more than five decades made him a revered figure both domestically and abroad. Frank was the recipient of many awards, including the Martin Luther King, Jr. Distinguished Service Award for Humanitarian Achievement. Frank left in his wake an Indian Country strengthened by greater sovereignty and a nation fortified by his example of service to one’s community, his humility, and his dedication to the principles of human rights and environmental sustainability.”

Nisqually Tribal Chairman Farron McCloud said, “Billy Frank, Jr. was one of the greatest leaders in the history of the Pacific Northwest. His roots ran deep in our tribal heritage and his charisma, courage, vision and heartfelt connection with the land and the natural resources  he loved so dearly inspired people near and far for many years. His legacy will live on for generations and the benefits of his life’s work will be felt forever. Speaking on behalf of the entire Nisqually Tribe, I thank President Obama for remembering our great leader with this magnificent honor.”

William Frank, III,  son of Billy Frank, Jr. and Vice Chairman of the Nisqually Tribe, said, “My Dad was a man who won many awards and honors, and he would have been humbled by this great honor. But all the great things he did, throughout his life, were done for the good of his people and for the living heritage of our ancestors. He stood up, tall and strong, against the oppression our people faced, and went to jail for it many times. He served in the Marine Corps in the Korean War, then came back to fight again. He fought so our people could maintain the lifestyle we have known for thousands of years. Then he fought to bring us together, to establish true cooperation with other governments for the benefit of the salmon, so they will be here for future generations. My Dad was a warrior. He was a wise and gifted leader. He was a fisherman.”

Billy Frank, Jr. was born in 1931 to Willie and Angeline Frank on March 9, 1931, at Nisqually. He passed away from natural causes, also at Nisqually, on May 5, 2014. Among his many achievements he had served as Chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission for more than 30 years.

Other recipients of the Medal of Freedom announced today include baseball great Yogi Berra (posthumous), public servant Bonnie Carroll, Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm (posthumous), music producer Emilio Estefan, singer Gloria Estefan, Congressman Lee Hamilton, space pioneer Katherine G. Johnson, baseball great Willie Mays, Senator Barbara Mikulski, conductor Itzhak Perlman, former EPA Director William Ruckelshaus, theater composer Stephen Sondheim, film director Steven Spielberg, singer Barbra Striesand, singer James Taylor, and civil rights leader Minru Yasui (posthumous).


#NativeVote16 Press Release: Tribes pitch Congress on coastal issues, riders

Note: Following are two news releases regarding issues that jeopardize tribal culture, safety and rights:

For Immediate Release Photos available on request


Testifying on H.R. 2719

Quinault Nation President Asks Congress to Support Tribal Management of Coastal Zones to Ensure Public Safety and Protect Cultural Resources


Washington DC (11/4/15)—Destructive weather conditions including persistent flooding, severe storms, intense storm surge and continued drought are placing coastal heritage sites and tribal culture at risk, Fawn Sharp, President of the Quinault Indian Nation, told members of U.S. House Natural Resources Indian, Insular, and Alaska Natives Subcommittee here this morning.

Testifying in a hearing on H.R. 2719, the Tribal Coastal Resiliency Act, President Sharp said, “Tribes who have lived in coastal regions since time immemorial do not have the necessary tools to protect their people and culture from the devastating impacts of severe weather events and natural disasters on their communities.”

Sharp, who is also President of the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians and Area Vice President of the National Congress of American Indians, said the United States has a trust responsibility to ensure the safety of tribal communities and the protection of tribal culture. “Upon its formation, the United States acknowledged the existing inherent sovereign authority of Indian tribes over our lands. The federal government entered into hundreds of treaties with Native nations to secure peace and trade agreements, to foster alliances, and to build a land base for the newly formed United States. Through these treaties, tribes ceded hundreds of millions of acres of our homelands. In return, the U.S. promised to provide for the education, health, public safety, and general welfare of Indian people. Persistent flooding, tsunami threats, and erosion put tribal members and cultural sites at risk. These threats cannot be adequately addressed by tribal governments alone.”

The Tribal Coastal Resiliency Act, will expand the Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA) to recognize the severe challenges tribal governments face in implementing coastal and shoreline measures that support public safety, public access, and cultural and historic preservation. The bill will enable tribal governments to access resources currently only offered to state governments, supporting tribal sovereignty and greater self-determination on tribal lands. The bill upholds the federal government’s treaty and trust responsibilities, while strengthening the government-to-government relationship with federally recognized tribes.

Protecting and preserving coastal areas are essential to the continued existence of tribal culture. “Over the past several years the people of the Quinault Nation have had to endure one natural disaster after another and our tribal government has had to respond with disaster declarations instead of being able to mitigate the damage before it happens,” said President Sharp.

The bill was introduced by Rep. Derek Kilmer (WA-06) along with 20 bi-partisan co-sponsors. It is supported by Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, a tribal organization representing 57 tribes in the Northwest as well as the Midwest Alliance of Sovereign Tribes, which represents 35 tribes in the Midwest.

President Sharp detailed several emergencies Quinault Nation has faced, including a March, 2014 breach of the sea wall protecting the Lower Village. That breach caused severe flooding and property damage. “Our people, our salmon populations, our cultural resources—everyone is suffering. We have been working very hard for a very long time to do all we can to fight back, using every resource at our disposal,” said Sharp. “There is no question that we need the help of Congress and the Federal Administration in these efforts.

She added, “Our culture is intertwined with nature and our connection to the natural resources of the Olympic Peninsula. Our respect for the Creator’s gifts and our ability to harvest, hunt, and gather is at the core of our cultural identity as well as our economy. Intensified weather conditions, natural disasters, and public safety concerns threaten the very existence of the Quinault people.”




CONTACT: Steve Robinson (360) 951-2494 Water4fish@comcast.net

For Immediate Release



We Stand With San Carlos


WASHINGTON D.C. (11/4/15)–The congressional action transferring National Forest Service lands to Resolution Copper, a giant foreign mining company at Oak Flat in the Tonto National Forest of Arizona was “beneath contempt, a violation of Constitutionally-protected treaty law and an infringement on American Indian civil rights,” according to Fawn Sharp, President of the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians.

Testifying at a special forum held by U.S. House Natural Resources Democrats this morning, Sharp said tribes across the continent strongly support the San Carlos Apache, the Yavapai and other tribes in the Oak Flat region which consider the area sacred and oppose the congressional action which would devastate it. Oak Flat is a vast area of rugged natural beauty, punctuated by towering cliffs, stream beds and archaeological and historical artifacts, just 70 miles east of Phoenix, Arizona.

“These tribes have cherished this land for thousands of years. They have valued it beyond any amount of money and beyond any level most non-Indians can easily comprehend. Now the federal government is saying that that this foreign company can come in and dig a mile-wide hole in the ground right in the middle of this precious area, in a search of copper. It is a tragedy that must be stopped,” said Sharp.

Legislative efforts to enable this land exchange repeatedly failed for years, until a rider to the FY 2015 National Defense Authorization Act was enacted into law in December of 2014. President Obama signed that bill, but the Administration has since reneged on the rider, realizing the error.

In her testimony to this morning’s forum, ATNI President Sharp, who is also President of the Quinault Indian Nation in Washington as well as Area Vice President of the National Congress of American Indians, emphasized that the rider was, in fact, a closed door deal. Former San Carlos Chairman Wendsler Nosie, Sr., has called it “the greatest sin in the world.”

The ore being targeted by Resolution Copper is located 7,000 feet below ground level in the sacred area, where the Apache people have gathered acorns and medicinal herbs and held coming-of-age ceremonies since prehistoric times.

“Our homelands continue to be taken away,” said Nosie, decrying what he termed the dirty way in which a land-swap rider had been attached to a must-pass bill that sailed through Congress and was signed into law by President Barack Obama. The amended legislation, with the support of Arizona Senator John McCain, was “an action that constitutes a holy war, where tribes must stand in unity and fight to the very end,” according to Nosie.

Tribes have held protests against the deal in Tucson and outside Senator John McCain’s Phoenix office. They have held a two-day, 44-mile march from the San Carlos tribal headquarters, “A Spiritual Journey to a Sacred Unity” at Oak Flat.

At its 2015 Mid-Year Convention at the Warm Springs Reservation in Oregon in May, ATNI passed Resolution 15-25, “Support for Repeal of Section 3003 of the FY15 National Defense Authorization Act, the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange.”

That resolution emphasized that the United States government has legal and moral obligations to provide access to Native Americans and to protect traditional cultural territories in a manner that respects the cultural, historical, spiritual and religious importance to Indian tribes. It read, “Oak Flat is a place filled with power – a place where Native people go today for prayer, to conduct ceremonies such as Holy Ground and the Apache Puberty Rite Ceremony which some refer to as the Sunrise Dance, which celebrates a young woman’s coming of age, to gather medicines and ceremonial items, and to seek and obtain peace and personal cleansing.”

The resolution emphasized the deep spiritual significance of the Oak Flat location as well as its historical and environmental importance and said the last-minute tactics used to pass the rider represents the antithesis of democracy and everything that is wrong with Congress, as well as a dangerous precedent. It called for Congress to enact legislation to repeal the land exchange and called for full transparency and information sharing with the general public the outcomes of environmental assessment and impacts on tribal religion and culture in the future.

“I can’t emphasize it enough. We stand with San Carlos, just as we stand with any tribe when its sovereignty, its culture and the rights of its people are trod upon by anyone, any time, any place,” said Sharp.



CONTACT: Steve Robinson (360) 951-2494 Water4fish@comcast.net


Testifying at this morning’s forum:


The Honorable Paulette Jordan, Secretary, National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA)

The Honorable Brian Patterson, President, United South and Eastern Tribes, Inc. (USET) President

The Honorable Fawn Sharp, President, Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians (ATNI)

The Honorable Terry Rambler, Chairman, San Carlos Apache Tribe

The Honorable Wendsler Nosie, Councilman and Member of Apache Stronghold

Naelyn Pike, San Carlos Apache Youth Tribal Member and Member of the Apache Stronghold

#NativeVote16 Press release: Medicaid expansion in Montana

For Immediate ReleaseNovember 2, 2015


Rhonda Whiting

406-546-7907 ph


Expanded Medicaid Increases Healthcare for Native Americans

Billings, Mont. — The state recently approved to expand the Montana Medicaid program. This expansion is critical to addressing the healthcare disparity of Native Americans throughout the state.

The expanded Montana Medicaid program will provide coverage to nearly 20,000 American Indians throughout the state.

Western Native Voice, a grassroots organization focused on critical issues in Indian Country, was active in supporting the passage of legislation authorizing Governor Steve Bullock to submit a waiver to Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). They organized tribal leaders and Indian people to testify and support HB405, legislation that created the Montana Health and Economic Livelihood Partnership Act that expands health care coverage to additional individuals, improves access to health care services and controls health care costs.

“There is nothing more significant to improving the health status of Indians in Montana than accessing healthcare through the Montana Medicaid program,” said Carol Juneau, Chairwoman of Western Native Voice. “This single action will save an entire generation of Indian people.”

Indians in Montana have a tremendous health disparity. Indian women die 20 years younger than non-Indian women and Indian men die 19 years younger than non-Indian men.

The healthcare coverage available through the Montana Medicaid program will allow for adult Indians to access basic healthcare including prevention services and diagnostic screenings.

Western Native Voice will continue to work with the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services as the agency implements the waiver.


For more information about Western Native Voice, please visit the website http://www.WesternNativeVoice.org.