Indian Country politics and public policy

Commentary by Mark Trahant

Writing is always about discovery. You put a plan on paper. Then you start writing. And you are often led to a place where you didn’t expect to go. I have discovered that the book I am writing should be two books, not one.

The first one is flying off my fingers. I should have it ready soon — less than a month. And the second piece I’d like to complete this year.

Outlines are evolving … but this is my plan as of now. I’ll be posting more details shortly now that I have rethought this idea. — Mark #flyFingersfly

 

SHORT! Winning side.

One: Short! Winning side.

Story of the last election, Indian Country’s brilliant candidates, and the task ahead. (I have been waiting my entire adult life to use the title …  I will explain later.)

Two: Just say, Montana

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

Three: Who will be Indian Country’s Barack Obama?

 

At least 73 American Indians, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians 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.

So who will be Indian Country’s Barack Obama? She’s probably already elected to a state office.

Four: When Natives lead the way

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. Context will be this year’s election.

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

Five: She represents!

Women make up about 25 percent of state legislatures. But a little more than 40 percent of all American Indian and Alaska Native legislators are female. The numbers break down this way: There are at least 67 Native American legislators out of 7,383 seats in 50 states or nearly one percent. (If you think that’s bad: Congress only has Native representation pegged at one-third of one percent.) Of those 67 seats, at least 25 of them are held by Native American women. So another way to look at the data: There are 1,800 legislative seats held by women; that works out to a Native representation of 1.4 percent.

There is still a long way to go to reach parity with the population, but it’s much better than just about any other category in the body politic. For example: A recent report by the Bureau of Indian Affairs shows more than 570 elected tribal leaders and, in that group, just under 25 percent are women.

Six: Seats at the table

It’s such a simple thing: Every citizen should have a voice at the table when decisions are made. It’s a powerful notion because no democracy can sustain itself unless all of its people, all of those who have a stake in the outcome, are included.

But that idea remains illusive. And never more important.

What does a seat at the table look like? It means more Native Americans win election to office as governors, members of Congress, U.S. Senators, mayors, county commissions, judges, members of state legislatures, and, yes, why not, even the White House. Indian Country deserves more of a voice, both in terms of fairness and as elected representation that’s based on our share of the population. Wait. That’s fairness, too.

Seven: The country is changing (demographics and parity)

The last election was not about demographics. Fact is Indian Country (and other diverse populations groups) voted in smaller numbers than in previous elections. But that’s not the future. Fact is the country’s changing faster than anyone expected.

 

Eight: Access to the ballot

It doesn’t matter if folks want to vote … if they can’t. National look at voting access and Indian Country.

Nine: Building a viral wave

Ten: The People’s House

Eleven: Why we lose, why we’re short

Twelve: Closing essay

Appendix. Lists & data

 

DISRUPT Indian Country!

One: What the hell just happened?

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

Two: Standing Rock changed everything

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

Three: History of austerity

The logic here is counting people at a rally is evidence that Americans want a smaller, less taxing government, the kind of government that the Tea Party advocates.

But if you really want to count numbers then consider that while tens of thousands of Americans marched for or against government policy, compare that to Europe where 10 times as many marched against their governments’ austerity measures. (These marches, I should mention, are small by European historical standards.) Nonetheless: Austerity is our future.

 

Four: Andrew Jackson, really? No President Walker.

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

 

THEME: DISRUPTING DEMOCRACY

Four, five and six: Rewriting.

 

THEME: DISRUPTING POLICY

 

Seven: White House, the Obama years

President Obama has visited Indian Country and heard first hand people’s concerns. He’s met with tribes in a formal, government to government process. It’s hard to understate his interest in federal Indian policy. A look at the two terms of President Obama and its impact on Indian Country.

 

Eight: The Treaty Right to health care

Nearly six years ago, on March 23, 2010, President Barack Obama signed into law the Affordable Care Act. The bill also included the permanent authorization of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act. Chapter explores history of Indian health programs, the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, and its potential for better funding for Indian health programs.

 

Nine: The austerity fight is just beginning

It’s one thing to think about “budget cuts” as an abstract phrase. It’s quite another when basic services are eliminated, steady jobs disappear and young people’s ambitions are blocked because college is no longer affordable. When austerity is a national program, Indian Country is hit first. The challenge is to elect candidates who understand this (and mitigate its impact).

 

THEME: DISRUPT!

 

Ten: A global warming manifesto

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

Eleven: A million lines of code

Rethinking education in the digital age. Chapter explores what jobs are being created and looks how reservation economies might take advantage. Even on remote reservations or Alaska villages this is the digital Native generation. They have grown up collecting more data on their phones — music, Facebook posts, video and photographs — than any other generation in history. They grow up connected to other Native youth across the country making deep digital friendships with dozens, even hundreds of other Native American youth. That’s new. It’s exponential.

 

 

THEME: POLITICAL TACTICS & STRATEGY

 

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

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

 

Thirteen: Five lessons from Canada

 

Canada’s election was one for the history books: A third-place Liberal party won enough seats to form a government; Aboriginal voters cast so many ballots that in some areas they ran out; and across the country people demanded a reversal of a decade of Conservative policies. Aboriginal voters turned out in record numbers, electing ten Native people to Parliament (up from seven).

 

Sixteen: Indian Country’s Barack Obama

 

Who will be Indian Country’s Barack Obama? She’s probably already been elected to a state office. And, at  least 73 American Indians, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians currently serve in 17 state legislatures. This is important for a couple of reasons. First, if you look at the body of work of these state senators and representatives, you’ll find them advocating for better services, more funding and improving relationships between tribal nations and state governments. Second, state offices are a source of talent for higher elective posts, ranging from Congress to the White House. Remember it was in only 1996 when Barack Obama was elected to the Illinois state Senate.

 

 

Seventeen: Voting rights: Protecting the franchise

American elections were often defined by who is not allowed to vote. So in 1880 John Elk presented himself to a county official in Omaha, Nebraska, and attempted to register to vote. The clerk “designedly, corruptly, willfully, and maliciously, did then and there refuse to register this plaintiff, for the sole reason that the plaintiff was an Indian, and therefore not a citizen of the United States, and not therefore entitled to vote.” On the next day Elk went to the polls anyway. The same clerk was a judge and again refused to give Elk a ballot. Eventually the Supreme Court agreed. It basically said that Elk had been born an Indian, therefore was not a citizen, and could not vote. He owed his “immediate allegiance to” his tribe, not the United States, the court said. Congress supposedly fixed that in 1924 when it passed the Citizenship Act. But that was a Washington, D.C. idea – and states continued to deny American Indians and Alaska Natives the right to vote. South Dakota, Idaho, Maine, Mississippi, New Mexico, Utah and Arizona all found legal loopholes to prevent Native Americans from voting until as late as 1962. Today that challenge continues as s0me counties and states make it difficult for Native American voters to exercise their right.

 

 

Eighteen: Making elections cool

 

Winter Challenge was a viral video that swept across Indian Country and First Nations. It was a simple: Jump in a cold body of water or snow and then challenge your friends to do the same. And their friends. And their friends’ friends. Until the numbers are huge. What if elections were the same? The prospects are exciting.

 

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

 

The changing demographics that make up America. The most important thing to know: American Indians and Alaska Natives are a fast growing population that will be a part of many winning political coalitions.

 

 

Closing essay.  The end of the United States. People of disruption.

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

Appendix.

— List of elected Native Americans at state legislatures, county commissions, city councils, and Congress.

 

 

 

 

%d bloggers like this: