The new deal for tribes: Resource extraction & toxic waste (minus the jobs)

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No coal here. The Native Village of Tyonek, Alaska, celebrated the suspension of a project by PacRim Coal. The tribal community is located some 45 miles west of Anchorage. PacRim estimated the project would have mined some 242 million tons of coal. (Trahant file photo)
Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

A couple of years ago a tribal leader showed me an abandoned lumber mill near the village of Tyonek, Alaska. The company promised jobs. And, for a time, for a couple of decades, there were those jobs. But after the resource was consumed, the mill closed, the company disappeared, and the shell of the enterprise remains today.

This same story could be told in tribal communities across North America. Sometimes the resource was timber. Other times gas and oil. Or coal.

The lucky communities were left with a small toxic dump site. More often there was major cleanup work required after (plus a few more jobs). And in the worst case scenario, a Superfund site was left behind requiring government supervision and an even greater restoration effort.

But all along, and in each case, the accompanying idea was that jobs would be a part of the deal.

There would be construction jobs to build the mine, pipeline, or processing plant. Then there would be truck driving jobs moving materials. A few executive jobs (especially in public and community relations) and, of course, the eventual supervision of the cleanup (especially if the tribal government had its own environmental protection agency.)

That was the deal. But it’s one that is no longer true. Now the resource is extracted, pipelines are built, and toxic waste is left behind … while the promised jobs are limited to the initial construction jobs.

The renewed effort to build the Keystone XL pipeline is a classic example of this shift. When President Donald J. Trump signed the executive order to approve the project he promised “thousands of jobs.” That’s true enough for the construction phase, but only 35 employees would be needed to operate the pipeline, according to the State Department report.

Keystone, at least, is prospective jobs. New ones. But the bigger challenge for the Navajo Nation, the Crow Nation and some thirty tribes with coal reserves or power plants is that new deal for resource-based plants and extraction does not create as many jobs.

The numbers are stark.

The U.S. Energy and Employment Outlook 2017 shows that electricity from coal declined 53 percent between 2006 and 2016. Over that same period, electricity from natural gas increased by 33 percent and from solar by 5,000 percent.

Coal is still a major source of energy. But it’s in decline. Coal and natural now gas add up to two-thirds of all electricity generation in the U.S. And that’s expected to remain so until at least 2040 when the market share declines to a little more than half.

But because it’s a market that’s going down it means that tribes that develop coal will not share in the rewards of either major profits or in a spike in jobs.

The only hope for this shrinking industry is to export the coal to other countries (something that will be extremely difficult because so many other nations have already agreed to the Paris climate targets). As Clark Williams-Derry has reported for the Sightline Institute:

“Robust, sustainable Asian coal markets were never a realistic hope for US coal exporters: the transportation costs were too high, the competition too fierce, and the demand too unstable. So the coal industry’s PR flacks may continue to spin tales about endless riches in the Asian coal market, the financials are telling a much more sobering story: that the coal export pipe dream continues to fade away, leaving a bad hangover on the coal industry’s balance sheets and a lingering bad taste in the mouths of coal investors and executives alike.”

On top of all that, Derry-Williams points out that China’s coal consumption has fallen for three consecutive years.

And the international context is that coal is the most polluting of the three types of fossil fuels. More than 80 percent of the world’s known coal reserves need to stay in the ground to meet global warming targets.

There are jobs in the energy field, but, as the Department of Energy report puts it: “Employment in electric power generation now totals 860,869 … (and) the number of jobs is projected to grow by another 7 percent but the majority will be in construction to build and install new renewable energy capacity.”

graph of U.S. net electricity generation and coal production, as explained in the article text

The green economy is taking over. (Trump or no Trump.)

The extractive economy (much like the farm economy a generation ago) reached its peak, probably back in 2014. Oil and gas employed 514,000 people. Today it’s 388,000. Coal and extraction related jobs peaked at 90,000 and now that number is about 53,000.

Then Indian Country’s development of coal (or not) has been the story so far in the Trump era.

Last month Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke signed a memorandum lifting restrictions on federal coal leasing. He said the “war on coal is over.” Then he quoted Crow Tribal Chairman Darrin Old Coyote saying, “there are no jobs like coal jobs.”

A day later the Northern Cheyenne Tribe filed suit. The tribe said the Interior Department did not consult it prior to lifting the restrictions. “It is alarming and unacceptable for the United States, which has a solemn obligation as the Northern Cheyenne’s trustee, to sign up for many decades of harmful coal mining near and around our homeland without first consulting with our Nation or evaluating the impacts to our Reservation and our residents,” Northern Cheyenne Tribe president L. Jace Killsback said in a news release. There are 426 million tons of coal located near the Northern Cheyenne and on the Crow Nation.

Meanwhile in Alaska, another coal project was put to rest in a tribal community. The village of Tyonek has been opposed to the Chuitna Coal Project. (Previously: Mother of the Earth returns to Tyonek) After a decade of planning, PacRim Coal suspended the project last month because an investor backed out.  The project could be brought back to life. But that’s not likely. Because coal is a losing bet for any investor.

According to Alaska Public Media that meant a joyful celebration in Tyonek.  The president of the village Native Council, Arthur Stanifer said, “What it means for us is our fish will continue to be here for future generations, also our wildlife, like the bears and the moose and the other animals will be secure and they’ll be here. They’ll have a safe place to be.”

And what of the jobs? That’s the hard part. The prospects for extraction-related jobs are about to be hit by even more disruptive forces. For example in the oil fields of North Dakota one of the great paying jobs is truck driving. Moving material back and forth. But already in Europe companies are experimenting and will soon begin the shift to self-driving vehicles. It’s only a matter of time before that trend takes over because it fits the model of efficient capitalism. Self-driving trucks don’t need rest breaks, consume less fuel, and fewer accidents. That same disruption of automation is occurring across the employment spectrum. Jobs that can be done by machines, will be.

So if jobs are no longer part of the equation, does natural resource extraction benefit tribal communities?

The answer ought to include a plan where the United States government and tribes work together to replace these jobs: Retrain workers and invest in the energy sector that’s growing, renewable fuels. But that’s not likely to happen in Trump Era.

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

 

 

THE ELECTED: Opening up a channel for discourse about Indian Country’s issues

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Updated interactive version of this graphic, here.  (Trahant Reports)

Native American Republicans include two elected members of Congress; a dozen serving in seven state legislatures

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

Indian Country cannot afford to close the door to Republicans in Congress and in state legislatures, especially those Native Americans who have been elected to office and serve as Republicans.

There are two tribal citizens serving in Congress: Representatives Tom Cole, a member of the Chickasaw Nation, and Markwayne Mullin, a member of the Cherokee Nation.

There are at least at least a dozen Native American Republicans serving in state legislatures (compared to 51 Democrats) in seven states. That list includes Alaska Sen. Lyman Hoffmana Democrat, but he caucuses with the Republican majority and now serves as a chair of several committees and sub-committees. Hoffman is Yup’ik. In the Alaska House, Rep. Charisse Millett, Inupiaq, is now her party’s minority leader.

Not all the elected Native American Republicans make tribal issues any sort of priority. Minnesota Rep. Steve Green, for example, does not include tribal membership in his biography or in his campaign literature. Yet his district includes the White Earth Nation.

However most of the Native American Republicans who are elected to office also engage in Native policy issues before state legislatures, including support for enhancing tribal languages, teaching Native history, expanding or limiting tribal jurisdiction, voting rights, and, soon, state measures to shape the next version of health care reform.

One shared trait of the Native Americans who are elected as Republicans is support for fossil fuel energy development. “As a local elected official, I am outraged that Indian Country is prevented from harnessing our own energy resources by ever-increasing regulations,” New Mexico State Representative Sharon Clachischillage said in a Native Americans for Trump promotion. “The Trump Administration will ease restrictions on American energy reserves worth trillions of dollars. Together we will block the bureaucrats holding Native American businesses back and bring new jobs into our communities.”

But even the idea of energy development gets more complicated in Indian Country.  As Sen. Hoffman reports on his biography page: “Every Alaskan deserves affordable energy. As a resource rich state (oil, gas, wind, and tidal), our state should and could, harness all of this energy to benefit all of its citizens. I pledge to continue to work towards reducing the high cost of energy in rural Alaska.” Anyone who’s purchased gas in a village — topping $6 a gallon in Hoffman’s home in Bethel — gets that.

But many of these same communities, especially in rural Alaska, are at the global warming frontline and more money will soon be required to build sea walls, fight more fires, or even relocate entire villages. In his biography, Hoffman only cites the opportunity. “Our backyard is changing opening new ventures, with the thawing of the tundra and the melting of the Arctic ice,” he writes. “It is my intent and my responsibility as your state Senator, to ensure our region participates …”

Then not every Republican even goes that far. Montana Sen. Jason Small, Northern Cheyenne, ran for office against Sharon Stewart-Peregoy, a Crow, to spur reinvestment in coal. Small recently wrote in The Billings Gazette: “Thirty million dollars a year in lost royalties, hundreds of direct jobs lost, thousands of families out of work and out of options, entire towns destroyed, statewide economic ripples, and over $1 trillion dollars in stranded assets, not necessarily because of market forces, but directly attributable to a political agenda. That is what we face in the current and unprecedented assault on reason and Montana’s economy in what has been dubbed ‘the War on Coal.’”

Then market forces will be a test of this notion. Can pro-coal Republicans legislate the revival of the coal industry? Small argued in the piece that “carbon capture and combined cycle technology can solve the global climate challenge posed in part by the world’s more than 7,000 coal-fired power plants.” Coal prices did surge after Trump’s election, at one point topping $110 per metric ton, but have since declined to about $83.50 per ton. Since the election at least one major power plant, the Navajo Generating Station near Page, has been marked for closure in two years. The Arizona utilities that own the generating station say that the low cost of natural gas is their primary reason for closing the plant. That in two words, market forces.

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Waiting for Congress

Most state legislatures are waiting for Congress before taking action before another round of healthcare reform at the state level. And that’s a debate that is still hot. There are three distinct points of view about repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act (or Obamacare). The plan by the House leadership (which has not been released yet) is supposed to be designed around tax credits instead of the insurance subsidies that are in the current law. Several of the most conservative members of the House and Senate see that as a new entitlement and have signaled their opposition. A third group of Republican moderates have been working with state governors to preserve Medicaid expansion because that insures some 22 million people (including more than $800 million for the Indian health system).

Rep. Cole is a likely supporter of the plan that emerges from House leadership. That includes a repeal of the Affordable Care Act as well as the Medicaid expansion. He recently told Native America Calling that Oklahoma did not choose to expand Medicaid and that made the system unequal.

However Cole said what ever plan emerges he said the Indian Health Care Improvement Act is a “bedrock” legal authority that must remain. “This legislation was included … purely as ‘vote bait’ to secure Democratic votes and has nothing to do with” the Affordable Care Act,” Cole said. “It is vital and ensures that Native Americans have quality health care available to them and their families. There is no controversy here – it sets the national policy for many programs and services provided by the Indian Health Service.”

A few weeks ago the repeal of the Affordable Care Act seemed like a sure thing. And now? The next week or two could answer that question. And the course that’s picked will have a huge impact on the Indian health system. 

And, over that same time frame, Native American Republicans will be asked to take a stand about deep budget cuts across federal agencies. Several news agencies have reported that the Office of Management and Budget is calling for a $1.3 billion cut at the Interior Department. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke employees that he did look at the budget and is not happy about it, according to Energy & Environment News. “We’re going to fight about it,” Zinke said, “and I think I’m going to win at the end of the day.” E & E News reported that Zinke would engage in a major reorganization of the department, one that focuses the agency on the next one hundred years (including the promotion of tribal sovereignty).

It’s easy to find the issues where Native American Democrats and Republicans disagree. Indeed it would be simple for me to shape every column as doom and gloom, the logic of “Oh, what is that Trump going to do next?” But that won’t help the policy debates that are so important to Indian Country. But that idea discounts how much agreement there is out there — even in this hyper-partisan climate. It was Rep. Cole who helped champion the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act in 2013, including the provisions for tribal jurisdiction over non-Indians. Tribes still have a lot of work to do to implement that law. Deborah Parker, former vice chair of the Tulalip Tribes, and a key supporter of the act, said tribes should get their law and order codes ready now to comply with the law. Too few tribes have taken that step and VAWA will again require reauthorization in 2018 so Indian Country has to present its strongest case for this Congress.

One example of a Native American issue that cuts across party lines is unfolding in Wyoming. The Indian Education for All, House Bill 76, would require the state’s schools to educate all children about the history and economic contributions by the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho Tribes.

Sen. Affie Ellis was just elected in November and is a co-sponsor of the legislation. She’s a Navajo who grew up in Wyoming and she told the Casper Star-Tribune that Native American students sometimes are threatened by verbal abuse during sports trips across the state. “It’s a really important first step to understanding each other a little bit better,” she told The Star-Tribune. “It’s a brief idea, and I think it’s a fitting one.”

At the recent Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, Ellis spoke at a panel titled, “Rising Stars in the Conservative Movement.” Back in Wyoming her appearance generated both praise and criticism. The newspaper Planet Jackson Hole asked the question if Ellis was a “sane Republican alternative” to Trumpism? The paper quoted Ellis saying:  “I think our country needs so desperately some thought and some well researched responses …  There’s so many times when it’s easy to name call and have these cute hashtags that stick but we have to have strong facts and start communicating those facts in a very effective way. I think the hard part is the devil in the details of policy you’re working on doesn’t fit into small hashtags. Maybe we just need long hashtags.”

I don’t know about longer hashtags. The one I use,  #NativePolicy, is short. But we certainly need more thoughtful, complex policy debates.

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

History to be made as Native legislators take on leadership roles across country

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Speaker Bryce Edgmon is the first Alaska Native in that post. (360North.Org photo)

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

Last year I expected a record number of Native Americans to get elected to offices across the country. There were just so many really superb candidates running for Congress, state legislatures, and statewide offices. At one point my list topped a hundred candidates. Of course it didn’t turn out that way. Too many of those exceptional #NativeVote16 candidates lost. But my tally to date: Sixty-six elected representatives and senators.  So the 2016 election cycle turned out to be more of a rebuilding year instead of one that broke records.

Yet it turns out there is still history to be made.

State legislatures are convening around the country this month and there is an interesting twist: Native Americans are in key leadership positions in at least seven states. 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.

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Interactive version of this graphic here.

Alaska is a great bipartisan example.

Two years ago former Sealaska chairman Byron Mallott, Tlingit, was elected the state’s Lt. Gov. (He was the Democratic Party’s nominee for governor, but joined an independent fusion ticket along with Gov. Bill Walker.) The Walker-Mallott administration elevated Native issues to an unprecedented level of influence. One of the governor’s first appointments was Valerie Nurr’araaluk Davidson, an Orutsararmiut Native Council tribal member, and a long time health advocate, as the state’s commissioner for the the state’s Department of Health and Social Services. She will be the one negotiating with the Trump administration about what Medicaid will look like if Congress acts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Then the state legislature and the Walker-Mallott administration have been at odds over state spending and resources. Alaska has a multibillion dollar budget deficit largely because of the state’s reliance on taxes from oil and gas. As The Fairbanks Daily Miner put it: “Fortunately for the state, previous years when oil revenues were high allowed legislators to sock away billions of dollars in savings accounts. Unfortunately for the state, it was easier for legislators to spend from these savings accounts than make the hard decisions that would put Alaska on a path to a balanced budget.” Further complicating that budget challenge, Alaska citizens are paid a per capita distribution instead of paying income or other general taxes.

So after this election a new alliance was formed in the legislature to try and come up solutions, three Republicans and two independents joined the Democrats to form a majority caucus. The Speaker of the House in this coalition is Bryce Edgmon, Yup’ik. He said his native background is how he views the world. He told the Bristol Bay Times: “I know it’s not only my children and maybe their children’s future, but it’s also the future of our way of life out here in rural Alaska and a lot of our Native villages.”

There are now eight Alaska Natives in the legislature representing both parties. Rep. Sam Kito III, Tlingit, is chair of the Labor & Commerce Committee as well as the Legislative Council (a joint committee with the Senate). Neal Foster is co-chair of the Finance Committee.  And Dean Westlake, Inupiaq, is chair of the Economic Development Committee and Arctic Policy. In the Senate, Lyman Hoffman, a Democrat who caucuses with Republicans, is co-chair of the Senate Finance Committee. The House Minority Leader is Charisse Millett, Inupiaq. In a previous legislature, Millett was instrumental in legislating Alaska Native languages as official state languages.

Actually I wrote “bipartisan.” That’s probably the wrong word for what’s occurring in Alaska because a few elected representatives run for election identifying with one party, only to caucus with the other after the election. (Perhaps a model for Congress?)

Oklahoma and Montana are the two states with the most Native legislators, nine. A larger group of Native legislators makes it easier to form a caucus so members can work together on issues important in Native communities. And both states have an active Native caucus.

Oklahoma legislators are leaders in both parties. In the House, Rep. Mark McBride, Potawatomi, is the Assistant Majority Floor Leader. Rep. Chuck Hoskin, Cherokee, is the Minority Whip. And in the Senate, Anastasia Pittman, Seminole, is the Assistant Democratic Leader.

Montana’s newly elected Rep. Shane Morigeau, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, will serve in leadership this session as Minority Whip. It’s a rare honor for a freshman.

Montana’s American Indian caucus was an important voice in the last legislature on issues ranging from tribal college funding to water compacts. “We’ve been literally and figuratively the minority’s minority,” Rep. Susan Webber, Blackfeet, told the Billings Gazette. “I know it looks like we have a lot of people in the Indian caucus, a lot of people were elected, but in reality it should be more. But just us getting in there, from my perspective, is a real positive.”

A critical challenge for the American Indian Caucus this session will be Medicaid. Montana came late to Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act but its impact has been swift. The state’s uninsured rate dropped from 20 percent in 2012 to 7.4 percent last year. A report by The Montana Budget and Policy Center says a repeal of the Affordable Care Act “could have disastrous impacts on Montana, putting at risk the health care coverage of over 142,000 Montanans who have benefited from ACA measures. At the greatest risk are the over 61,000 Montanans who gained access to affordable health care coverage through Montana’s Medicaid expansion plan.” Worse: the report found that “repeal could cause a greater number of uninsured Montanans than before the ACA was enacted.”

Montana Budget and Policy says 8,000 American Indians are enrolled in insurance through the Medicaid expansion program. Third-party insurance, such as Medicaid, has added nearly a billion dollars to the Indian Health Service budget. “Nationwide, reimbursements at IHS facilities, tribal operated facilities, and urban Indian clinics have increased 21% since the expansion of Medicaid,” the report said. “In 2014, nearly 40% of American Indians did not have health insurance, but Medicaid expansion represented one of the most significant opportunities to expand coverage for American Indians.”

This is important because if Congress repeals the Affordable Care Act, it will be up to state governments to pick up the pieces (as well as the cost) or strip millions of Americans from health insurance coverage. Repeal without new resources could devastate the Indian health system.

Other states where Native American legislators are included in the leadership structure: Hawaii, where Andria Tupola is Minority Floor Leader; and in Colorado, Rep. Joseph Salazar is a committee vice chair.

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Sen. John McCoy is the chair of the Washington Senate Democratic Caucus and will help foster the party’s vision and values during the session. (Legislature photo)

In Washington Sen. John McCoy, Tulalip, has been a long-time champion of issues that are important in Native communities.

McCoy sponsored legislation to close coal burning power plants and “dramatically reduce the amount of coal burned to generate energy for Washington residents, reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Colstrip by 5 million tons — the equivalent of a million cars — a year.”

The senator says Washington Republicans and dental lobbyists are blocking the creation of a mid-level dental practice along the lines of what’s been done in several states. “Indian country may not have the loudest voice in Olympia, but it still has basic needs,” McCoy wrote in The Seattle Times.

“The idea is pretty simple — allow native communities to train and recruit dental therapists to help clear the backlog of an ongoing oral-health crisis. The research is alarming — one-quarter of Native Americans aged 35 to 44 years have fewer than 20 of their natural teeth,” he wrote. “The dentists also ignore the groundbreaking success of similar programs in other states. It’s been working for 11 years for indigenous communities in Alaska, where 45,000 people are seeing reliable providers for the first time in their lives.”

This issue is not going to go away. A new national survey reports that 45 percent of U.S. voters say they go without dental care because of cost or lack of insurance. But 8 of 10 favor adding midlevel providers as a solution. “Good oral health is critical to overall health, yet policies to expand access to dental care do not reflect this,” said Tera Bianchi, project director of the Dental Access Project at Community Catalyst. “Dental therapists offer better access to care for the most underserved populations in a cost-effective way to the system. They are a smart, effective bipartisan way to improve access to care.”

And this session McCoy will be the he face of the Democratic Party, chairing the caucus where he says he will help “foster the vision and values of Senate Democrats as they navigate the 2017 session.”

In other words: Sen. McCoy has a seat at the head of the table.

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 – Deadlines near for registration, early voting starts soon

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TrahantReports

If Indian Country is going to make a difference in this election there are details that need to be completed first.

Voter registration is easy. NativeVote.Org has an online set up here that is really easy to use.

And the September 26 – 30 is Native Vote Action Week. (Look for hashtag, #NativeVote16 for events and social media posts.)

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The National Conference of State Legislatures produces this chart of the different voting set-ups across the country.

A few states, including Alaska, require election registration 30-days before the election. Other states are 25 and 20. Here is the list, state by state.

In North Dakota a federal judge limited a strict voter identification law, one that the court said would have impacted 3,800 Native American voters.

“Voter fraud in North Dakota has been virtually non-existent,” said U.S. District Judge Daniel L. Hovland. He was appointed by President George W. Bush. He said the state “produced no evidence suggesting the public’s confidence in the electoral process would be undermined by excusing those voters who cannot reasonably obtain an ID.” The key point after the ruling is that there is a “fail-safe” process allowing voters to swear they live in a current precinct (such as north of Cannonball) or a poll worker could vouch for that voter’s eligibility.

 

Three other state voter ID laws were limited by federal courts. This remains a contentious issue as state legislatures try and make it harder for people to cast ballots.

One cool voting improvement is the number of states that are setting up automatic registration. According to The Brennan Center for Justice: “Automatic voter registration is picking up speed and bipartisan support. The 2016 session saw more automatic voter registration bills introduced than any other kind of voting legislation. Under automatic registration, the government automatically and securely registers every eligible citizen who interacts with designated government offices unless the person declines to register.”

It’s also possible in many states to vote early. There are now 37 states that open up polls early in designated locations (including some in Indian Country).  Other states allow absentee voting for voters by request. And, in three states, Colorado, Washington and Oregon, the entire election is conducted by mail.

I particularly like early voting. It takes away the “x” factor. You know, things like, “something came up.” “I forgot.” “I had a crisis at work.” What ever. Vote early and it’s done. — Mark Trahant

 

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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#NativeVote16 – The test of an ‘indispensable nation’ is when Standing Rock is not ‘left out or left behind’

 

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Hillary Clinton said the Paris Agreement is a “testament to America’s ability to lead the world in building a clean energy future where no one is left out or left behind.” Those words must apply to the debate about the Dakota Access Pipeline. (Campaign photo)

 

Mark Trahant / TrahantReports

My ears perked up when I heard that Hillary Clinton was giving a speech on American Exceptionalism.  I cringe every time this is a topic; the idea is far too close to Manifest Destiny.

“The United States is an exceptional nation. I believe we are still Lincoln’s last, best hope of Earth. We’re still Reagan’s shining city on a hill. We’re still Robert Kennedy’s great, unselfish, compassionate country,” Secretary Clinton said Wednesday. She went on to say that “we are the indispensable nation. People all over the world look to us and follow our lead.”

If that’s true, that’s not a bad thing. But it all depends what happens over the next few weeks and months near Cannon Ball, North Dakota. If the United States is to be that “indispensable nation” it has to lead on the most important crisis Mother Earth faces, climate change.

This is not what Clinton was talking about. Her speech was all about global security, the military, and global alliances. But her words were exactly on point on the issue of climate change. As she put it: “Because, when America fails to lead, we leave a vacuum that either causes chaos or other countries or networks rush in to fill the void. So no matter how hard it gets, no matter how great the challenge, America must lead. The question is how we lead. What kind of ideas, strategies, and tactics we bring to our leadership. American leadership means standing with our allies because our network of allies is part of what makes us exceptional.”

And those should be the same themes when it comes to the global reaction to climate change.

Last year Clinton praised the Paris Climate Change Agreement. “The Paris agreement is testament to America’s ability to lead the world in building a clean energy future where no one is left out or left behind,” she said … “we will only succeed if we redouble our efforts going forward to drive innovation, increase investment, and reap the benefits of the good-paying jobs that will come from transitioning to a clean energy economy. The next decade of action is critical—because if we do not press forward with driving clean energy growth and cutting carbon pollution across the economy, we will not be able to avoid catastrophic consequences.”

So let’s be absolutely clear here: The tribal community of Standing Rock and the people downstream on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation are those who would be left out and left behind unless the Dakota Access Pipeline is stopped.

Let’s connect the dots. Paris Mismatches: The Impact of the COP21 Climate Change Negotiations on the Oil and Gas Industries, a report last month by The Chatham House, says that in order to meet global targets (you know, the ones the United States agreed to reach) the “impact on the oil and gas sector will intensify.”

Three key points from that study.

First, the United States and other nations that signed must apply “additional and more stringent measures” on fossil fuels going forward. Second, “as a result, the impact of regulation on the oil and gas sector is set to intensify.” And, third, in language that should say in b0ld, No Dakota Access Pipeline, “avoid over-investment in potentially unnecessary projects.”

The report says if nations do not do this then “investment in consumption and production of fossil fuels will continue and oil and gas companies will make risky investments to meet unsustainable demand.”

That is exactly the problem in North Dakota. The same day Secretary Clinton was outlining “American Exceptionalism,” the chief executive officer of Chevron, Steven S. Watson, was posting on LinkedIn why he thinks oil and gas are indispensable. (There’s that word again.) “Ours is a long-term business, so we know that eventually supply and demand will come back into balance and prices will stabilize. The global economy depends on it,” he says. “The energy we produce enables light, heat, mobility, mechanized agriculture, modern communications, the health system that keeps us well, and the many electronic devices that keep us connected and entertained. It’s also the feedstock for everything from crayons to contact lenses, not to mention the basis of our roads and runways.”

Watson argues that change will come slowly and even with reductions in emissions, “oil and natural gas will still account for 44 percent (of all energy use), with coal providing an additional 16 percent.”

I disagree. I think this whole line of thinking misses the impact of disruption. And, as I wrote in my recent piece for Yes! magazine, I think the events at Standing Rock are a disruption of the norm.

But that logic of “we all need more oil” is a recurring theme used to belittle the actions at Standing Rock. The line goes: Folks drive to the camps using gas; they mark up signs with oil-based writing instruments; and, sleep under fabrics made from petroleum. The charge is, “how can you be against the Dakota Access Pipeline when you use these things?”

But no one. Not the people at Standing Rock. Not the Paris agreement signers, again, including the United States, are saying we will stop using fossil fuel-based products. What’s being said and not heard is that we as humans have to reverse course. Instead of consuming more oil every year, we need to start using less, and leave more oil, gas, and especially coal, in the ground. And significantly less. As the Chatham House report says to “send a strong signal to those who consume and produce carbon-based fuels so that their investment plans can be amended to reflect the shape of a lower carbon economy.”

And especially ending the construction of “potentially unnecessary projects.”

Tim Kaine, the Democrat’s Vice Presidential nominee, was asked yesterday if he would stand against the Dakota Access Pipeline. According to a video posted by 350 Action on Twitter he replied “that’s one I have to educate myself on.” But he said the court should take the tribe’s complaint “very seriously.”

But it’s more than that. You see the Clinton-Kaine would-be-administration has already said what it thinks about this issue when it promised an energy future  “where no one is left out or left behind.”

So the question is whether or not those words have meaning.

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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#NativeVote16 – Essence of political organizing is found at Standing Rock

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Mark Trahant / TrahantReports

My Facebook feed is rolling with new feeds from those headed to North Dakota to join those protecting the drinking water for the people of Standing Rock and Cheyenne River. Other folks are fundraising using a variety of social media tools. And, still other people are gathering food and supplies for the many people camped near the river site. Plus dozens of tribes, organizations, and individuals are sending letters of support.

That combined is the essence of political organizing.

There is a problem, seemingly intractable, because the Dakota Access Project has opted for a route crossing the Missouri River in a location that threatens the drinking water for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe (and eventually the Cheyenne River Tribe). So the tribes and supporters are organizing on multiple fronts. Litigation, set to begin next week, will challenge the role (or lack thereof) by federal regulators that have a trust responsibility to protect the tribes’ interests. And in the court of public opinion, hundreds of people are bringing the dispute into the new living room of America (that’s Facebook) where the story is often trending for all to see. (This shows how social media really is the new media for most people … but that’s another post.)

The magnitude of the organization is impressive. All it takes is a phone call, a Facebook post, or a picture on Instagram and there is somebody ready to act. Even letters of support are identical to “endorsements” of candidates or ballot measures. This is pure political organizing, 101. It’s the exact sort of passion that wins elections. What’s interesting about this debate, this moment in time, is that so many #NativeVote16 candidates are on the ballot statewide in North Dakota and South Dakota. The same organizational tools that bring food must also be configured to win an election. This election.

Imagine Chase Iron Eyes in Congress who is selling t-shirts to fund his campaign instead of Kevin Cramer who has more than a million dollars in contributions, some $652,000 from political action committees and corporations.

Or specifically on this issue: Marlo Hunte-Beaubrun, Standing Rock Sioux, is running for North Dakota’s Public Service Commission and Henry Red Cloud, Oglala Lakota, is a candidate for South Dakota’s Public Utilities Commission. These are the state regulatory bodies that determine approval process for pipeline companies. One vote in each state might not be enough to change the outcome, but one voice on each of those commissions could raise tribal concerns every single time the issue comes up.

The statements from the current North Dakota Public Service Commission make that very point.  Commissioner Brian Kalk told The Bismarck Tribune: “These groups didn’t come to our hearings.”

But over a 13-month hearing schedule, the commission could have been the one to get out and talk to the people. That would have happened with Hunte-Beaubrun and Red Cloud on the two bodies. They would have made certain to include community voices.

The chairman of North Dakota’s body, Julie Fedorchak, said the permitting process is over because the company’s plans have already been approved.

Then again never say never. The strategy for the Dakota Access Pipeline has been all about getting a quick approval process. The original plan calls for completing construction this year. But if the protests and litigation slow that down, that might cause the company to rethink its route. Especially if they are looking at delays measured in years not months. I am not a lawyer but it sure looks to me like there is a lot of evidence that the Army Corps of Engineers failed the consultation protocol — a point that other federal agencies are making. And when local newspapers report that the route was shifted south to protect an urban water source, well, that no longer passes the smell test to say that same pipeline is safe for tribal communities. As the Bismarck Tribune put it: “The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers evaluated the Bismarck route and concluded it was not a viable option for many reasons. One reason mentioned in the agency’s environmental assessment is the proximity to wellhead source water protection areas that are avoided to protect municipal water supply wells.”

And when there is an oil spill a river cleanup is difficult, if not impossible. (An irony: Some of the best data about the potential for oil spills comes for the Pacific Northwest, a region that is impacted by the alternative to pipelines, rail transportation of oil.)

Last year a nearly 40,000 gallon pipeline leak on the Yellowstone River resulted in toxic drinking water for the communities near Glendive, Montana.

What makes this spill worth considering is two-fold: First, the volume of oil was only a fraction of what the Dakota Access Pipeline will carry; Second, a harsh winter made it impossible for the pipeline company to stop the leak. The Environmental Protection Agency’s Paul Peronard told The National Geographic:  “None of us anticipated the drinking water problem.”

This time the problem is anticipated. And, like Montana, it’s certain that icy conditions will make any real time reaction to an emergency spill nearly impossible.

Back to politics: How many votes are needed to elect Hunte-Beaubrun? She would need to find 70,000 more votes than the last Democrat who ran for that office. And Red Cloud would need about 100,000 more votes.

Tall orders? Sure. But it’s no different than organizing food, transportation, and lodging for hundreds of last-minute guests. Or protectors, if you prefer.

(Previous post: Pipelines, rail cars, and the price of oil.)

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 – The long arc is the real campaign, especially in Alaska & Arizona

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Edgar Blatchford was a candidate for the U.S. Senate in Alaska. He teaches journalism at the University of Alaska Anchorage. (Photo via Facebook.)

Mark Trahant / TrahantReports

It’s easy to be optimistic about the prospects for American Indian and Alaska Native candidates in this election and beyond. Our numbers are growing, organizations are getting stronger, and, best of all, the most remarkable, talented people are giving elective office a shot.

Then I hear that voice inside: “Ahh, yes, but good people lose.” That’s true. But at the same time politics has a long arc that brings about change. It’s not one election. Or one candidate. It’s that constant push. This should be a routine: We encourage candidates, help when we can, organize, and repeat when necessary. Then there is Trahant’s Rule: You gotta run to win. There is no substitute for putting your name on the ballot.

And so I am burying the lede: Edgar Blatchford lost his Democratic primary run for the U.S. Senate on Tuesday. He placed second in a field of three. Ray Metcalfe had 13,631 or a little more than 51% of the votes to Blatchford’s 7,433 votes or about 34%.

Blatchford, a professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage, was a late entry into the race. He ran with little money, promoting his candidacy largely via social media. He was the only Native American running for the Senate. (Updated spreadsheet here.)

There are two areas of the country where it’s a question of “when” not “if” there will be Native representation in Congress. Alaska is one. Arizona’s first congressional district is the second. (The next primary is Aug. 30 in Arizona.) Perhaps when is just an election or two away. But you gotta run to win.

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

 

Six Native American congressional candidates remain on ballots across the country. The next primary is Aug. 30 in Arizona.

 

 

#NativeVote16 – Native American Republicans make their case to voters

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Rep. Sharon Clahchischilliage, Navajo, represents San Juan County in the New Mexico Legislature. She is one of at least fourteen Republican Native Americans who are running for state or federal office this year. (Photo via Facebook)

 

 

Mark Trahant / TrahantReports

A question I am often asked: Are American Indians and Alaska Natives only Democrats? Of course not. There are Native Republicans, Greens, Libertarians, and Independents. Yet the data show that the vast majority of Native Americans vote for Democrats. And run for office as Democrats.

Of the active candidates on my #NativeVote16 boards there are 75 Democrats, 14 Republicans, and 4 independents (or no affiliation reported). But if you look at history, there are a lot more American Indians and Alaska Natives who have won office under the Republican banner. That list includes: Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, Northern Cheyenne, who joined the Republican Party after his election; Vice President Charles Curtis; as well as the only current members of Congress, Tom Cole and Markwayne Mullin. 

The Republican Party has its Richard Nixon legacy (even if it’s not talked about much these days). President Nixon championed self-determination, rejected assimilation, and returned land to its rightful tribal owners.

Today’s Republican Party platform continues to affirm Nixon’s basic framework. “Based on both treaty and other law, the federal government has a unique government-to-government relationship with and trust responsibility for Indian Tribal Governments, American Indians, and Alaska Natives,” the platform says. “These obligations have not been sufficiently honored.”

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Map of where Native Americans are running for office as Republicans. Spreadsheet, notecards, and map are posted as a Google Fusion Table.  There are 14 Native Americans running as Republicans (compared to 75 Democrats and 4 independents.)

What do the Republican candidates say about issues impacting American Indians and Alaska Natives? How do they make the case for being Republican and Native?

Oklahoma’s U.S. Rep. Cole is perhaps the most senior and respected Republican who’s also a member of a tribe. “As an enrolled member of the Chickasaw Nation, I am very proud of my heritage and the tremendous accomplishments of tribes in Oklahoma and across our country,” Cole writes on his congressional web site. “I am committed to advocating on behalf of Native Americans in Congress.”

Cole’s advocacy is routine and powerful. He was instrumental in the 2013 enactment of the Violence Against Women Act because he gave cover to Republicans who voted for the measure (and against an alternative bill). Cole has called for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, and, at the same time, has consistently said the United States government has “fallen behind” in its funding of the Indian health system. He often advocates for spending more on Indian health throughout the budget and appropriations process.

Indeed the area of health care is often a point of departure for Native American politicians who are Republican.

Montana state Rep. G. Bruce Meyer, who represents Box Elder in the state Legislature, voted for the expansion of Medicaid in the last session because it gave more options for American Indians. He also says that the Affordable Care Act has increased costs and the Indian Health Service has not improved as a result, including inadequate facilities, inadequate care and a lack of professionalism. “If we had all three working in tandem, if we had people qualifying for Medicaid services, and Indian Health Services, combined with the Affordable Care Act, it could work.”

But he said the problems in health care at the Veterans Administration and the Indian Health Service remain serious concerns. “I hope the affordable healthcare act could make some improvements, but so far we haven’t seen it,” he said. “I want to give it the benefit of the doubt to see if all three could work together, three sources of funding, but it hasn’t happened.”

Indeed most of the Republican candidates don’t even mention the link between the Affordable Care Act and the Indian Health Care Improvement Act. Oklahoma’s U.S. Rep. Mullin says on his web site that he is “a proud Cherokee citizen,” and “one of only two Native American Members of Congress.”

But when it comes to the issue health there is only the standard Republican party lines: “I have voted over 30 times to defund, dismantle or repeal Obamacare. This terrible law imposes more mandates, more taxes and is driving up the cost of health care.  Obamacare also jeopardizes Oklahoma’s rural hospitals, which are already struggling.”

Labor issues are another area where Republicans favor tribal authority over federal or state power. “It is especially egregious that the Democratic Party has persistently undermined tribal sovereignty in order to provide advantage to union bosses in the tribal workplace,” the GOP platform says. “Native communities should have the same authority as state governments in labor matters, so that union bosses and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) cannot undermine the authority of tribal governments.”

‘Naturally conservative’

Meyer says that Native Americans are naturally conservative and so it makes sense for more to join the Republican ranks. He said one of the things he’s discovered by “knocking on doors” is that the Democrats take the Indian vote for granted. “We believe in the sacredness of life,” he said. “We believe in strong families. When I am asked about the Gay Rights movement in Indian Country, I just relate it to our traditional societies and cultures … Large families, traditional families, Mother, Father, Grandmother, Grandfather, Great-grandma, Great-grandpa, uncles, aunts, were considered just like mother and father. Strong traditional families were honored and respected. But now we see a shrinking family and the nuclear family.”

He said one of the issues where he often differs with a lot of people in the tribal community is regarding “federal dole” because it hasn’t improved conditions on reservations. “I am saying, ‘let’s give the Republicans a chance, let’s see if we can develop small businesses, let’s see if we can develop Indian entrepreneurs,” he said. “I think we can develop our resources instead of white corporations and the white man do it for us.”

Meyers is Chippewa-Cree from Rocky Boy. He’s a candidate for the state Senate running in a district with a large American Indian population. His Democratic competition is former state Rep. Frank Smith, a member of the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes.

Most of the Republican candidates make little mention of issues impacting American Indian communities (unless their district is majority Native American).

However in Duluth, Minnesota, Senate candidate Donna Bergstrom, Red Lake Nation, is making reform of Indian education an issue in her campaign. She writes on her web page:  “… in the State of Minnesota, American Indian students graduate at about a 49% rate, far below that of their non-Native peers. In many of the schools throughout the state, the numbers are actually lower. When education is not an expected goal or shared experience in nearly 50% of our youth, our societal foundation is weakened. Gone are the children’s options for the future of their education, for employment opportunities, and for their prospects of serving a productive role in our society.”

Bergstrom calls for “vouchers, education credits, and policies that support ‘child-focused’ learning. She says: “We must continue to look out, as cherished in Native American communities, seven generations to see how our policies and practices of today affect our future generations.”

Energy versus climate change

Most of the Republican candidates favor more energy development on tribal lands.

Alaska’s House Majority Leader, Charisse Millett, Inupiaq, praised the Obama administration for its decision to allow oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean. “I’m encouraged that the president and Interior Department have finally awakened to the reality that Shell will follow the law and do right by the State of Alaska, indigenous peoples and federal regulators,” she said. “”We hope this signals a change in the federal government’s attitude toward their own permitting system and Outside environmental interests, who don’t have the Alaskan people in mind. We’re the nation’s Arctic. We’re the nation’s energy future. It’s time for the Obama administration to let us unleash our potential and build on our decades of energy production expertise. Today is a good day.”

Jason Small is running for the Montana Senate. He’s a member of Northern Cheyenne Tribe and his central theme is the importance of coal to jobs.”Indian Reservations contain 30% of the nation’s coal reserves west of the Mississippi, an estimated 1.5 trillion dollars of energy resources,” Small testified to Congress last year.  “In my opinion, coal must continue to be the mainstay in the energy mix. While wind, solar, bio-mass, and hydro energy can contribute to our national energy needs, it is clear they cannot totally replace coal as a base load power sources. I am a strong proponent for development of the rich Northern Cheyenne coal reserves.”

Small said development of coal and the Colstrip power plant “provide 3,740 jobs directly related to energy production in Montana, 3,500 in eastern Montana. An additional 2,688 private sector jobs are related. Personal income from coal-related employment is about $363 million … Colstrip employs 363 permanent workers, including 41 tribal members, one-eighth of the workforce. Others are employed by subcontractors, including during the annual overhaul when 680 are employed by North American Energy Services alone including many Navajo boilermakers. The Western Energy Mine, Colstrip currently employs 80 minorities, the majority Northern Cheyenne, nearly one-third of the craft workforce. This satisfies an original tribal goal of developing a trained work force for the day when the Northern Cheyenne would develop their own reserves.”

But the problem with coal is not just political. The international market for coal is in free-fall and more West Coast ports are refusing to be shipping centers because of environmental and climate change concerns. The United Nations has said that 80 percent of the world’s coal is un-burnable after the most recent climate change agreement signed in Paris.

Meyers said the Crow Nation is sovereign and it ought to be able to develop its own coal no matter what the state or federal government says. “The test of sovereignty is not how much we are going to be dependent on the federal government, but the true test of sovereignty is, what can we do? To create our own businesses, create our own economic viability, or own economic sustainability, that will be the true test of sovereignty.”

And what about climate change?

“I think it’s more of a political agenda than reality,” Meyers said. “There have been some scientific studies, but even those, how true are they? When you really look at the scientific evidence, how scientifically-based are they really?”

Actually, the answer is 97 percent.  According to the National Space and Aeronautics Administration, “multiple studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals1 show that 97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree: Climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities.”

Inside the caucus

In New Mexico, like Montana, being a member of the Republican Party means being in the majority.  Rep. Sharon Clahchischilliage, Navajo, is working with a Republican initiative to expand that majority with the Future Majority Project— a program designed to recruit more Republican candidates that reflect the diversity of America.

“Representatives (Alonzo) Baldonado and Clahchischilliage will be a great addition to the Future Majority Project because both have done a tremendous job advocating conservative values to increasingly diverse communities,” said Debbie Maestas, chairman for the Republican Party of New Mexico. “They represent the future of our party.”

Republicans are hoping to recruit, train, and elect hundreds of candidates from diverse communities. That’s essential to the party in a state like New Mexico where about half the population is Hispanic and Native Americans exceed 10 percent of the population.

Clahchischilliage is an experienced politician. She’s worked as executive director of the Navajo Nation’s Washington Office, ran for tribal president, and for other state offices. She also shows that Republicans can win seats in districts that are majority American Indian (and, for that matter, majority Democrat.) Her district is 70 percent Native American. She will face another Navajo in November, Glojean Todacheene.

However there is one caveat: Both Meyers and Clahchischilliage won their races in off-year elections. The challenge during a presidential cycle, when more Native Americans show up at the polls, will be tougher simply because there will also be more Democrats voting.

Perhaps the strongest case that Republican candidates for office make to Native American voters is that they will be inside the room when the party makes decisions on American Indian issues. Meyer said he was able to convince Republicans, for example, to support tribal water compacts with the state. “We need friends on both sides,” Meyers said. “It’s good that I am on the other side of the aisle. I tell people I am out to get the best deal for American Indians no matter which party because that’s my constituency.”

The Trump challenge

There is one question that every Republican has to answer this election: What do you think about your party’s nominee for president?

Rep. Cole, who is an important voice for party leadership, says that’s not an issue. He said on MSNBC: “There is a choice. It’s a choice between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump at this point. And, frankly, if you’re a Republican that’s a pretty easy choice. There is nobody who unites and motivates Republicans as much as Hillary Clinton.”

Then again not every Native American candidate is quite so eager to embrace Trump.

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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#NativeVote16 – Is Facebook enough to win a Senate primary in Alaska?

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Social media messaging: Edgar Blatchford makes a pitch to voters via YouTube.

 

Mark Trahant / TrahantReports

Could social media be a tool used to propel a successful candidacy? Of course not. At least that’s what people say. After all: Politics has always been done this way.

But Alaska might be different and Edgar Blatchford is staking out an unconventional approach. He’s running for the United States Senate in a race that includes Sen. Lisa Murkowski. She has already raised nearly $2.5 million in her re-election bid.

“The idea in this campaign was that no one wanted to file as a Democrat,” Blatchford said. Since then two other candidates, Richard Grayson and Ray Metcalfe, have been added to the August 16th ballot as Democrats. And the winner of the Democratic primary will go on to face at least three other candidates in the general election, a Republican, a Libertarian, and an Independent. Blatchford is Yupik and the only Native American running for the U.S. Senate. He has a resume worth considering: Mayor of Seward, Alaska, professor, owner of a newspaper chain, chief executive officer of a what is now Chugach Native Corporation, and he served in a governor’s cabinet.

“We are close to our senators. Alaska is a small state and we have lots of contact with federal officials,” Blatchford said. “If we elect a Republican Senate, you have to presume it will be anti-Indian. Why would we elect a Republican senator who will have to fight her own caucus for basic Constitutional rights? If we elect Democrats, it would be a part of the progressive agenda, it would be a part of the deal. Why would we fight from the outside, when we can be on the inside and be a part of the agenda?”

Blatchford said Murkowski must come up with a rationale to convince her own Republican caucus to support Alaska Native issues. “Donald Trump is hard to explain away. We watch what’s happening, we see it all on social media, but somehow Alaskans don’t see the connection between Lisa Murkowski and the Republican party’s leader,” he said, adding that it’s time for her to disassociate herself with Trump.

“I am connecting with the people in rural Alaska” he says, and one of the reasons is that he is championing “Native American sovereignty; Alaska Natives addressing their own problems.”

But too often, he said, the first question folks ask: “How much money have you raised? Not whether I am a Democrat, Republican, or what I believe. I have nothing.”

In a video presentation on YouTube, Blatchford said he is “not interested” in raising millions of dollars from corporations and transnational interests that have a different agenda for Alaska. “I am interested in representing you in the United States Senate, only Alaskans.”

To get his message out Blatchford relies on social media where he spends “late hours” connecting with people around the state. He said he’s also driving to as many places he can and speaking in communities reachable by road.

A recent twist in Alaska politics is the idea of a candidate running as an independent instead of as a Democrat.  This strategy is worked for Gov. Bill Walker and Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott. And attorney Margaret Stock is pursuing that route in this election. There will also be a Libertarian on the ballot. So voters will have a choice between four candidates come November.

Blatchford said Democrats should not abandon their party. “This is a presidential year,” he said. “Why would you abandon the Democratic nominee for President of the United States who is so sensitive to minorities, the poor, and to Native Americans. We ought to grab on to her, promote her programs, and her progressive policies. I am embracing Hillary Clinton.”

Will social media be enough? We will learn the answer, at least in part, on Tuesday.

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

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

 

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