#NativeVote16 – Six seats Native candidates can win to flip Congress

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Former Colville Chairman Joe Pakootas is running for the House of Representatives in Washington’s 5th district. (Campaign photo)

 

Mark Trahant

TrahantReports.com

Indian Country is a key voting bloc in the Democrat’s campaign to win more House seats. Sort of.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is focusing on 19 seats that the party thinks it can win from Republicans, labeled as the “Red to Blue” campaign. Three of those seats have a signifiant number of Native American voters.

This is good news for Democrats who are competing in these districts because it should mean there will at least be seed money from a national network of donors. (Previous: Trahant Reports on the challenge of funding a congressional campaign.)

The most important seat on the Democrats’ list is Montana where Denise Juneau is challenging Rep. Ryan Zinke. Montana is an ideal state for a Democratic pickup. Montana’s demographics are changing and there will be a lot of ballot and fundraising chaos should the Republicans nominate Donald Trump or Ted Cruz. And, Native Americans already have a good turnout track record during presidential years.

Another House seat on this list is Nevada’s 4th district where former Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, Walker River Paiute, is a candidate. (He still must win a primary.) This district is almost 15 percent Native American.

DCCC Chairman Ben Ray Lujan, a New Mexico Democrat, told Politico that “House Democrats are on an offensive and will pick up these seats in 2016, and these effective, hardworking and diverse candidates are the foundation of our success this year.”

In a normal election cycle, a focus on two seats with Native candidates would be a good thing as part of a diversity foundation.

But this year I think Democrats could do more. A lot more. There are congressional districts that could get a huge boost from a strong Native American candidate. One of the best things that the Liberal Party did in its sweep of Canada’s election was recruit strong Aboriginal candidates. (If you want to see how powerful that was in one image, check Adam Scotti’s official picture of Justin Trudeau asking Jody Wilson-Raybould to be the nation’s Attorney General.)

Where this DCCC list most conflicts with the principle of diversity is Arizona 1st congressional district. (Even though it’s already represented by a Democrat, the seat is still a target because it’s expected to be so close). This district is the most Native in the country — more than 22 percent and growing — and it’s time for Native representation. One. Who. Can. Win. The Democrats should be recruiting star candidates from tribal government, academia, or business. In an election cycle where outsiders are being rewarded by voters, this is a “ya’ think?” moment.

Instead Democrats have chosen Tom O’Halleran, a former Republican legislator, turned Democrat. Wonderful. That should excite folks across Indian Country.

Two other districts with Native candidates are not on the list. Probably because they are considered long shots at this point. True. But this will not be a normal election year.

Those districts are Washington’s 5th district where former Colville Chairman Joe Pakootas is running again; and Arizona’s 2nd district where Victoria Steele, a Seneca, is polling well but lacks money. Both Steele and Pakootas face primary challengers.

I would add one more seat to any target list: Alaska. Rep. Don Young is vulnerable even if that doesn’t show up in polling. And, like Arizona 1st, it’s time for an Alaska Native to represent Alaska. Democrats should be relentless in their recruiting (and that actually should be easy) and make certain that any candidate has enough money to be competitive. There are so many talented Alaska Natives who could win. (Note to Democrats: Do I need to put a list together for you? Or will you do your homework yourself?) It’s time.

The DCCC says this is only the first list. There will be more down the road. The sooner the better.

In case you are counting: There is a total of six seats where American Indian and Alaska Native voters could make a difference. When the goal is to win 30 seats, that’s not bad.

There has never been an election with more opportunity for Indian Country. Why? Because we are the ultimate outsiders. And in 2016 that’s the winning hand.

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A changing Arctic presents incredible challenges and opportunities for Indigenous Peoples

Ambassador David Balton speaking at an Arctic Council press conference last week. (Trahant photo)
Ambassador David Balton speaking at an Arctic Council press conference last week. (Trahant photo)

ANCHORAGE — A changing Arctic? It’s a region that presents incredible challenges and opportunities for Indigenous People.

One of those unique opportunities involves governance. The Arctic Council is eight nations who work together on complex issues ranging from climate change to a sustainable future. The Arctic Council met last week as the U.S. began a two-year chairmanship of the body.

What makes this international body unique is that it includes indigenous representation as “permanent participants.”

The six permanent participants are:

Aleut International Association (AIA)

Arctic Athabaskan Council (AAC)

Gwich’in Council International (GCI)

Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC)

Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North (RAIPON)

Saami Council (SC)

US Ambassador David Balton explains: “I am not aware of another international forum that has representatives of Indigenous groups engaged the way the Arctic Council does. They are at the table as, essentially, equal partners.”

Balton said these Indigenous populations “span multiple countries,” except for the Russian organization.

“Officially they don’t participate in decision-making as such,” Balton said, “but the reality is, at least in my experience, the governments will not take decisions opposed by the permanent participants.

Suicide in Indigenous communities was also considered at the Anchorage meetings.

“Political, scientific, and community leaders from across the Arctic have described mental health – especially suicide – as one of the region’s most pressing public health problems,” the Arctic Council reported. “Despite the best efforts and considerable expenditures of our respective governments, the problem of suicide continues to be a barrier to health and development in the North.”

The council has one initiative, The Rising Sun, Reducing the Incidence of Suicide in Indigenous Groups — Strengths United through Networks, explores cross-boundary suicide prevention efforts. The goal is a “toolkit of common measures … applicable across the Arctic, which could expand Arctic states’ capacity to evaluate the implementation of evidence-based interventions to combat suicide.”

One of the issues that’s of particular interest to me involves climate change and “adaptation.” Most of the debate about climate change involves “mitigation.” That idea is humans are the primary cause of climate change so if we reduce our carbon emissions we can limit the impacts. But the second topic in climate change is “adaptation.” That means doing what’s required to build higher sea walls, protect pipelines from permafrost damage, and, all too often, move villages inland because of eroding shorelines. But it also means figuring out how animals and fish will react to the loss of habitat, when sea ice, and plant life disappear. And, of course, less wildlife and fish too often means less food for Native people.

The Arctic Council includes and incorporates “Indigenous knowledge” into its research. As one recent document states: “Indigenous Peoples’ traditional knowledge and its potential to advise adaptation mechanisms across the Arctic is a common theme. Moreover, scientific, traditional and experience-based knowledge in combination are recognized as key factors for a sustainable Arctic future. Generating grassroots support is the most important condition for sustainability.”

How do we build a sustainable future in the Arctic? That’s the key question as we try and figure out how we and our children will live in this changing environment. An idea that should be important to people who live far beyond the Arctic Circle.

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

Background for Arctic Council meeting in Anchorage on October 23

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Press conference at 9 am at National Park Service (pre-registration required.)

Summary of the Anchorage meeting, press information. More about the Arctic Council and the U.S. Chair. Last year’s AC annual report.

Indigenous issues

Almost four million people live in the Arctic and one estimate is that ten percent of that population is Indigenous. Greenland, the Canadian north including Nunavut, and the North Slope and Northwest Arctic boroughs in Alaska are regions where indigenous people are the majority of the population.

As author John Warren noted in a report: “the rise of solidarity among indigenous peoples organizations in the region is surely a development to be reckoned with by all those interested in policy issues in the Arctic.”

Six national or international indigenous organizations are permanent participants of the Arctic Council.  For example: The Inuit Circumpolar Council Alaska outlines seven priority areas, ranging from insuring food security to being included in the global conversation. Caribou as a bell-weather for Athabaskan communities and climate change via Arctic Athabaskan Council.

Subsistence and sustainability are common threads in many of the materials from indigenous people. Draft Arctic Council communication plan on supporting and promoting  traditional ways of life. UN Fact sheet on Arctic Indigenous issues. I am also interested in learning more about Indigenous knowledge and property rights. How will this body of law develop?

Alaska and the U.S. Corps of Engineers are exploring a deep water port, possibly in Nome. How will that impact Alaska Native communities, and, again are there new property rights involved?

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Climate change adaptation

There is a lot of material on climate change and mitigation, such as reducing greenhouse gases. But adaptation will be a growing discourse. I want to know more about what needs to happen to protect people and communities in the Arctic. The Atlantic on relocation of villages in Alaska because of erosion. Alaska seeks money to pay for relocation from The New York Times. This is exactly what I am interested in learning more about: How do we get additional money to pay for climate change adaptation, such as moving villages to building higher sea walls.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office has been looking at the problem of adaptation since 2003 when it identified 200 villages threatened by climate change. GAO  in an 2009 update of that report said there has been limited progress and Congress would have to determine “the means and extent of federal assistance to relocating Alaska Native villages.”

This report isn’t about adaptation, but it’s a good look at climate change in the Arctic exploring  the challenges of black carbon.

NASA describes the Arctic as the planet’s early warning system. Most concerning: “In some cases, Arctic systems may be reaching “tipping points”—critical moments in time where a small change has large, potentially irreversible impacts.”

Governance

Brookings Institute links development in Arctic, both energy and tourism, with increased resources from Congress for a ice-breaking ships. From the essay: “The United States is considered an “Arctic Nation,” a term proudly used by policymakers to highlight our intrinsic national interests in the region and a profoundly basic yet important acknowledgement that Alaska and its associated territory above the Arctic Circle are indeed part of the United States. Unfortunately, the United States has yet to advance from this most basic construct of high latitude stakeholder to a proactive leadership and investment posture for the future.”

From Russia, an essay about international cooperation in the Arctic. This quote is particularly significant from Sergey Grinjaev: “Arctic regions takes on special significance, and teamwork on its study and assimilation will be strengthened even in the conditions of action of the Anti-Russian sanctions.”

Another area in governance is that of sovereignty and land claims. Russia recently claimed additional territory. I also wonder what legal claims Alaska Natives and other indigenous communities might have as the geography and shipping lanes change.

Congressional Research Service: Background paper on Arctic issues for members of Congress. “The diminishment of Arctic sea ice has led to increased human activities in the Arctic, and has heightened interest in, and concerns about, the region’s future. The United States, by virtue of Alaska, is an Arctic country and has substantial interests in the region,” CRS said. Paper explores a number of issues ranging from energy to climate change. Also explores U.S. Coast Guard declining assets; two of the three polar icebreakers, Polar Star and Polar Sea, have exceeded their service lives. CRS says the Arctic could be an “emerging” national security issue, particularly with Russia’s role in the region (a contrast to the quote from above. A conservative essay in The National Interest also said more military activity will be a part of the region’s future.