Five ways Indian Country can challenge the policies of the Trump White House

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Official government portrait of President Donald J. Trump even telling us what to think about the president’s success story. Would that be the riches to riches narrative?  (WhiteHouse.gov photo)

 

America First? How about First American First?

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

How does Indian Country survive the Donald Trump era?

The new administration is only a few days old and already the chaos of the times have upset business as usual. And possibly the very structure of federal-Indian law.

And it’s not just Washington. The North Dakota Legislature in Bismarck acts as if it has permission to ignore the Constitution and precedent in its relationship with tribes. House Concurrent Resolution 3017 calls on Congress to “modify” the reservation system and put the state in charge.

This resolution will last about fifteen minutes if and when legislators put a pencil to what it would actually cost taxpayers. Right now, for example, the federal government picks up the entire tab for Medicaid for American Indian tribal members. Plus add to that the operation of the Indian Health Service. We’re already talking millions of dollars and that’s only one program, health. What’s really driving this is that North Dakota legislators are angry about Standing Rock and greedy for more oil and gas money from the Mandan Hidatsa Arikara Nation. So North Dakota is ready to assume government expenses for Indian Country across the state? Silly, rabbits.

But Indian Country is now a target and so many Trump supporters are emboldened by an administration that does not know how to say no to those who would trample on constitutional rights. This will be true for many who run federal agencies, state governments, oil, gas, and coal producers, and the Congress. In their mind: Indian Country has had it too good for too long. Imagine that.

So what’s Indian Country’s response to the nonsense? Consider these five ideas.

First. Don’t count out the bureaucracy. I first started covering federal Indian policy during the late 1970s. I was in DC and was interviewing someone about a reform project at the Bureau of Indian Affairs, a plan that I thought made a lot of sense. But my source smiled and responded, “I have seen them come. I have seen them go.” There are many ways to tie up initiatives — even good ones — through the process of government. President Donald J. Trump’s memoranda might fit into this category. Usually an executive order or a memorandum has a legal framework as part of the document, including citing the statutory authority for the presidential action. On Dakota Access and Keystone that reference has been replaced by the logic of “because I said so.” We shall see.

Second. Ronald Reagan famously said government is not the solution, but the problem. This era might flip that idea around because the federal government’s inaction on such issues as global warming will make it less relevant. The rest of the world, even conservative allies of the Trump White House, are moving ahead on climate action. To pretend that oil, gas, and coal are the future is only a fantasy. There may be a temporary uptick in fossil fuels, but that cannot last. This is an opportunity for tribes to look for new allies outside of the federal government, even globally. The America First policy signals uncertainty in global governance so perhaps the counter should be, First Americans First.

Tribes should work closer with cities, states, private companies, and any global government that’s open to help. The federal government is going to be close to useless for the next four years (unless the Trump infrastructure program happens, and includes Indian Country, but there is no evidence of that yet.) The modern city state, think a Seattle, Portland, Minneapolis or a Phoenix, as the real engines of growth in this country. What’s the best way for tribes to become partners?

Third. Young people aren’t playing by the old rules, either. If the president wants change he should look at what young people are already doing — and that direction is very different than his.

Take driving. The data shows that both Millennials and Gen-Xers have less interest in driving (and fossil fuel consumption) than any generation in modern history. A recent report published by Time found a “huge drop of 47 percentage points in 16-year-olds with drivers’ licenses. For people ages 20 to 24, there’s been a 16 percentage point decrease over the same time span. And for those ages 30 to 34, the decrease has been about 10 percentage points.” Young people say they are too busy. Driving is too expensive. And It’s easy to catch a ride.

The Millennials are now the largest generation in America so that disinterest in driving — and fossil fuel consumption — is a powerful trend. Of course this is not always the same in rural areas, including reservations. But it’s key to fossil fuel consumption. Make that less fossil fuel consumption. And a shrinking demand for pipelines.

Indian Country’s greatest advantage right now is young people, more than 40 percent of our total population (compared to about a third for country as a whole.) We have numbers working in our favor and should look for more ways to leverage that.

Fourth. Don’t count out Republican versus Republican. Right now Republicans in Congress are giving President Trump the benefit of the doubt. They are willing to reverse long held positions (such as free trade) because he’s the leader of their party and he claims to lead a movement. But as the decisions get harder, the act of governing gets more complex, this will evaporate.

There is already evidence of this in the debate about repealing the Affordable Care Act. The idea of getting rid of Obamacare was a unifying force. But there is no consensus about what’s next. Republican governors fear that their state budgets will collapse if Medicaid becomes a block grant with less funding. Insurance CEOs fear their future if the mandate to buy insurance goes away while they are still forced to cover pre-existing conditions. And many Republicans in Congress cling to the idea that health care should be left up to families and government should not be involved or fund it. And Republicans who want to win the election know that stripping heath insurance from millions of people is not a winning hand.

Fifth. Document everything and be transparent. The Trump era is already defined by the wacky claim of alternative facts. The antidote is to respond with hard evidence. We know that zealots are eager to reshape the federal government by shrinking it. So let’s document with that really means. What jobs are lost (and how will those be replaced?) I’ve started a spreadsheet and will update it regularly.  This president has promised a new era of jobs. So lost work in Indian Country is not acceptable.

There are many ways for tribes to survive the Trump era. My main point is that we need to think differently. Usually a new presidential term starts with a president trying to bridge gaps and bring the country together. That’s not been the case from President Trump and so we should expect more of the same in the years ahead. It’s more important than ever to have a strategy, a plan for winning. What will it take? Who are potential allies? And what are alternatives that might work?

And, of course, we must start getting ready for the next election.

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 – A record year? Why not? (Special election week report)

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Do you ever wonder who will be the first Native American president? That answer might already be found on the ballots across the country. Where more Native Americans than ever are running for office.

Welcome to the Trahant Reports election special. I’m  Mark Trahant.

You can find my blog at trahantreports.com or my work on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and, if you have an iPhone, on Apple News. Just look for Trahant Reports.

So often the stories reported about Indigenous people are defined by our challenges. These are the stories we know too well.

Instead we’re going to talk about our successes. We’ll explore how Native Americans are challenging the status quo by running for office and voting.

It’s sovereignty at the ballot box.

I’d like to report this is a record year for Native Americans running for elective office. But there’s a problem. No one has ever measured this before. We don’t have good data.

So is this a record year? Probably. Likely and why not?

Here’s the plan. I have broken this story into chapters. I’ve posted slides (they can be found on the Native Voice One website, many radio station web sites, or on my blog at trahantreports.com) Feel free to take a look at while you are listening, the visual story is one reason why I wanted to create chapters in this podcast.

Chapter one: Context

Let’s start with this number: 1.7 percent is the Census Bureau’s estimate of how many American Indians and Alaska Natives there are in this country. (There are a lot of ways you can measure the population of Native Americans. But I wanted one that would be useful because it’s found across many documents and that makes it easy to compare. It’s also the number used by the National Congress of American Indians.) So this is our baseline for discussion.

I should mention that one important election factor is that the population of American Indians and Alaska Natives is growing faster than the general population. By a wide margin. In fact, a third of all Native Americans are under the age of 18, compared to about a quarter of the total population. We are a young people. And our numbers are rising and in politics that’s everything.

And it’s not just American Indians and Alaska Natives who are changing the face of America. It’s a much larger diversity story.

When Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980 the population of the United States was 80 percent white. Today it’s about 63 percent white.

One demographic profile of voters by The National Journal shows how dramatically the country has changed since President Reagan’s landslide. He won with the support of 56 percent of white voters in 1980. But in 2012, when non­-white voters ac­coun­ted for 28 per­cent of the elect­or­ate, Mitt Rom­ney took 59 per­cent of white voters—and lost the pres­id­en­tial race by 4 per­cent­age points.

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

Millennials are now the largest age group – some 90 million people – and are more independent than previous generations.

The country’s diversity trend is just beginning. The U.S. Census reports that American Indians and Alaska Natives grew 1.4 percent since 2013, compared to about 0.5 percent for whites.

So if we are growing, what does that mean in a political context? Well, a couple of years ago, Malia Villegas, director of the National Congress of American Indians Policy Research Center, said population parity would mean at least two U.S. senators and seven members of the House of Representatives.

That’s the goal. How far away are we from that? Well it’s really the number two because there are only two, Representatives in the U.S. Congress,  Tom Cole and Markwayne Mullin, both are Republicans from Oklahoma.

RecordYearFinal#NativeVote16.007.jpegTom Cole, a member of the Chickasaw Tribe, maybe the most important members in the history of Congress.

When the issues involve tribes, and especially tribal sovereignty, Cole is a champion. But more than that advocacy, Cole argues the case for tribes from within the Republican caucus, and, even better, within the House Republican leadership. He is a measured, reasoned voice, not just for Indian Country, but for his ideas about what a conservative party should be. And that recognizes being inclusive.

Cole has history of being the consistent inside-the-party voice calling for more money for the Indian Health system. “We have a lot of people on both sides of the aisle who recognize the Indian country has been historically underfunded,” he told Indian Country Today Media Network in 2012.  And, more important, he was the architect of building a coalition in the House to enact the Violence Against Women Act. He told WNYC radio that bill was “a very difficult issue because there were divisions within his own conference that prevented (then Speaker John Boehner) from getting to 218 votes.”

Yet Cole found enough Republicans and Democrats working together to pass the measure into law.

Rep. MarkWayne Mullin is in his second term. He is a member of the Cherokee Nation and he describes himself as a “rancher” and as a “businessman.” He took over his father’s plumbing business and expanded it several fold. His website lists a variety of conservative causes, ranging from too much foreign aid to repealing ObamaCare. Mullin does talk about tribal issues from time to time, but more often is a reliable vote for the conservative factions in the House of Representatives. He’s not the kind of representative to buck his party on, say, the Violence Against Women Act.

 

RecordYearFinal#NativeVote16.014.jpegChapter Two: The Presidency

My focus is on Native Americans who are running for office. But you cannot talk about an election project without at least talking about the presidency.

So here are a few thoughts.

Hillary Clinton is  a story that’s told in hundreds of tweets from mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers, aunts and uncles, and those who make up the larger American family. One of my favorite images of this campaign shows a young Native daughter watching Clinton walk on stage to accept the Democratic nomination.

That image says so much about what’s possible.

“When there are no ceilings, the sky’s the limit,” Clinton said. It’s line we all know to be true.

The limitless sky reminded me about Wilma Mankiller. She was fond about telling a story about the first treaty negotiations between the Cherokee Tribe and the United States. One of the first questions: “Where are your women?”

Mankiller said it was common for Cherokee women to be included in ceremonies and negotiations and it was inconceivable that the United States would come to a negotiation alone. How can you negotiate anything with only half your people or half a way of thinking?

“Where are your women?” That question has a new meaning and it parallels that of Native Americans running for and winning offices across the country. First one person wins, then another, then another, and so on. “Where are your women?” is a question with different answers every election. In state legislatures, Congress, and soon, possibly, the White House. Where are your women? The answer would be, running governments.

WHEN IT COMES TO INDIAN COUNTRY, Donald Trump is running on one issue, energy.  There is probably no greater divide between Republicans and Democrats than on energy and climate issues.

Donald Trump  calls his energy policy, “America First,” a new energy revolution.  “President Obama has done everything he can to get in the way of American energy,” Trump said. Too many regulations make it harder to profit.

But it’s not just costly regulations making profits harder to come by. It’s also market forces. And that’s the part of the story that doesn’t fit neatly into a political debate. Drive across North Dakota, as I have recently done , and you will be struck by the huge “man camps” that were built to temporarily house oil and gas workers. Many of those camps now sit empty or near empty because the jobs have dropped as fast as the price of oil. (It’s now about $50 a barrel, up from its lows, but significantly less than what oil producers predicted.

Trump supports the Dakota Access Pipeline — a project that news reports also say he has invested in.

 

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A political history

Remember the entire premise of the U.S. political system is that tribes are governments. Tribes are political entities enshrined in the Constitution. Yet, and this is huge, tribes are the only such political entity that does not include even minimal, structural representation in Congress.

Even before the Constitution, the Continental Congress made it possible for residents of the territory of Ohio to have a voice.

On November 11, 1794, one James White was seated in the Third Congress as a Delegate. Congress hadn’t even set the rules yet for what that meant. White did end up in the House where his role was described, as quote “no more than an Envoy to Congress” because he could not vote.

Today there are six Delegates in Congress, representing Puerto Rico, Washington, D.C., Guam, U.S.Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

This is where Indian Country gets short-changed.

The Navajo Nation, a geographic, political, constitutional entity, is far larger and has more people than the Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa or the Northern Mariana Islands.

The thing is Congress makes up its own rules for Delegates. It’s not a Constitutional act.

But full authority or not, at least Delegates are there. Seated. At the table. Their very presence would be a reminder about the unique political status of tribal governments.

There’s another interesting thread of history: And that’s about the office of Vice President. It may be worth at least a footnote in the long history of tribal, federal relations.

Charles Curtis was Herbert Hoover’s vice president and running mate. He had been the Senate Majority leader, representing Kansas. He was a member of the Kaw Tribe,and spoke Kanza, but instead of being an American hero, he’s most known for being the author of the General Allotment Act of 1887 – the Curtis Act – the very vehicle used to rob Native people of some 90 million acres of land.

Curtis is not alone in one respect. More American Indians have been candidates for the vice presidency than any other national office.

In the 2000 and 2004, Winona LaDuke, a member of Minnesota’s White Earth Chippewa Tribe, was on the presidential ballot as Ralph Nader’s running mate for the Green Party ticket. The Greens, she said, would “stand with others around this country as a catalyst for the creation of a new model of electoral politics.”

And before LaDuke, LaDonna Harris, a Commanche, and a founder of Americans for Indian Opportunity, was the vice presidential nominee of the Citizen’s Party in 1980. She ran with ecologist Barry Commoner in the year of Ronald Reagan’s landslide win.

Another historical thread, the motivation of some Native American candidates.

After World War II there was a disastrous policy called termination – the idea of ending the federal-treaty relationship with tribal governments – there were two distinct reasons. Some believed it was the next logical step for Indian progress, an economic integration. While others hated government and used termination as a method to shrink and attack government.

Utah Republican Senator Arthur Watkins was from the shrink-and-attack government camp. He was zealous about termination, badgering tribal witnesses when they came to Capitol Hill, refusing to even consider alternatives. He dismissed treaty obligations outright. Indians, he said, “want all the benefits of the things we have – highways, schools, hospitals, everything that civilization furnished – but they don’t want to pay their share of it.”

This was a real threat and Native American leaders responded by encouraging people to vote.

 

RecordYearFinal#NativeVote16.017.jpegJoseph Garry was president of the National Congress of American Indians during this era. In a period of about 30 years, more than a hundred tribes were disbanded and tribal governments dissolved. The result was huge losses of land and natural resources in Oregon, Utah, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Nebraska, and Texas.

Garry saw voting as the strongest weapon in this battle. So the chairman of the Coeur d’Alene tribe ran for the Idaho House of Representatives and was elected in 1957. Later, he won a seat in the the Idaho Senate, and in 1960 he sought the Democratic Party’s nomination for the U.S. Senate.

Idaho is a surprising birthplace for Garry’s legacy. Not many Native Americans live in Idaho, where they comprise roughly 1 percent of the population. But Garry’s successes there (even then) showed that someone from a tribal community could be a leader for all citizens of the state.

And it’s an active legacy.  In 1975, Garry’s niece, Jeanne Givens, became the first Native woman elected to the Idaho House of Representatives. Like her uncle, she challenged the status quo with a bid for Congress in 1988. Givens lost, but four years ago another Coeur d’Alene tribal member, Paulette Jordan, ran for the Idaho House seat. She lost that attempt but two years later she won and that illustrates what may be the most important lesson in politics: You’ve got to run to win—sometimes more than once. Jordan describes Givens as a mentor who has taught her much about politics and both have earned the legacy of Joe Garry.

When a state like Idaho has a history of electing Native Americans to public office, you have to wonder, “Where else?” It’s almost been a story of success-by-stealth.

There is a win in Arizona, another in Kansas. And when you add them up, there are at least 73 American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians serving in 19 state legislatures.

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Chapter 3: The People’s House

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.

So then I hear a 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 the constant push.

Start with Trahant’s Rule: You gotta run to win. There is no substitute for putting your name on the ballot.

This year several talented people did just that. My former colleague at the University of Alaska Anchorage, Edgar Blatchford, ran for the Senate in Alaska. He ran with little money, promoting his candidacy largely via social media. He was the only Native American running for the U.S. Senate.

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 and Arizona is the second.

Victoria Steele ran for the House from southern Arizona and in northern Arizona, two Navajos, both Republicans, did campaign for that seat. State Senator Carlyle Begay and Shawn Redd.

Perhaps it’s an election or two away but one day … there will be Native American members of Congress who represent Arizona and Alaska.

Across the nation this year there are five Native American candidates for Congress. The two Republican incumbents, plus three challengers, Denise Juneau in Montana, Joe Pakootas in Washington, and Chase Iron Eyes in North Dakota.

Denise Juneau is Montana’s superintendent of public instruction. She’s a member of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikakara Tribes and grew up in Browning, Montana, in the Blackfeet Reservation. Juneau has a track record. She’s already won two statewide contests and knows what it takes to win a House seat. This is how U.S. politics often works: A candidate wins at the state level, does a good a job, and then she moves on to Congress. Juneau is running against Rep. Ryan Zinke. And, lately, there has been back and forth about who has been in Montana longer. Seriously.

 

RecordYearFinal#NativeVote16.023.jpegJoe Pakootas would be the first former tribal leader ever elected to Congress.

He’s the former chairman of the Colville Confederated Tribes and later chief executive of the tribes’ enterprises. It was in that job, he revived thirteen money-losing tribal enterprises. The University of Washington awarded him the Bradford Award, an honor given annually to a minority businessman, for his leadership.

Then in North Dakota, there is Chase Iron Eyes. He’s from Standing Rock — the center of attention for Indian Country (and for the planet). He’s an attorney. And he’s running for Congress from North Dakota out of necessity. “I take a look around and I see that our government is broken, and I feel responsible to do my part to try and fix this on behalf of North Dakota.”

In addition to Congress, more Native Americans than ever are running for state offices.

Let’s start in North Dakota. Where there is a lot of news right now.

The rush to build a new oil pipeline from the Bakken oil fields to Patoka, Illinois, was supposed to be routine. It was designed to avoid regulation, especially federal oversight, and get built without fanfare.

The Dakota Access Pipeline issue united Indian Country in a way that’s unprecedented.

But there’s another important chapter. No state in the history of the country has ever had three Native Americans running as major party nominees for statewide offices. To put that in perspective in recent years: Larry EchoHawk, Pawnee, ran for attorney general and won and governor of Idaho (he lost).  And there have been a few others candidates, but my point is they’re scattered, one candidate is a big deal. So three Native American candidates, well that’s beyond extraordinary.

 

RecordYearFinal#NativeVote16.028.jpegIron Eyes as I mentioned is running for Congress. Buffalo for the state’s insurance commissioner. And, Hunte-Beaubrun is running for the Public Service Commission, the agency that would regulate pipelines. They are running on the North Dakota Democratic-NonPartisan League Party ticket.

Iron Eyes travels the state’s roadways pulling a cargo trailer with his campaign signs inside and on display outside. It’s probably his most visible campaign advertising. On a Saturday he made certain to park his vehicle where the University of North Dakota was playing football. More eyeballs. His fundraising is authentic grass roots. He posted on Facebook recently: “16,227 people have contributed an average of $3.80 to our campaign. Send $3.80 today!”

Three. Dollars. Eighty. That’s it. Think of what that means in a world where the wealthy write checks and buy access to politicians from both parties.

Ruth Buffalo may be the hardest working candidate in the history of North Dakota. Every time you open Facebook you see here knocking on doors, making telephone calls, or supporting the other candidates who are running. When people look at her resume, her background, she is clearly prepared for this job. As Greg Stites, a former counsel for the North Dakota Insurance Commission, wrote in The Grand Forks Herald: “Ruth Buffalo is the best candidate for the job, with an academic background essentially built for the role of insurance commissioner. She holds a master’s degree in public health from North Dakota State University. Her depth of knowledge of the health and insurance needs for our state are unmatched by her opponents. And her accomplishments do not end there.”

There is not only history, but irony, in Hunte-Beaubrun’s candidacy for the very agency that would regulate pipelines in North Dakota. She’s from Cannonball. The Dakota Access Pipeline dispute is her community; her water. Imagine how history would be different if on a regulatory agency there was one person who could object to a routine pipeline drawing.

The rules would be different “because we would have a seat at that table,” she said. And we would be able to help everyone understand culturally where we’re coming from.”

There could have been a solution without controversy.

This is the essence of why representation is so critical. We have so many states, counties, cities, where decisions have been made without even hearing a Native voice, let alone considering what’s said. That’s not democracy. And it will no longer work in a country where the demographics are changing this rapidly.

Yes, it’s historic that three Native Americans are running for statewide office. But you know what’s even cooler than that? This trend is just beginning. Even better, think about what history that could still be created. What if everyone in Indian Country, every ally, everyone who wants change, saw the merit of voting for a candidate who’s proud of contributions measured in pocket coins instead of the million-dollar access that we’ve come to accept as normal?

Next door, in South Dakota, a Lakota man is running for the state agency that regulates energy.

South Dakota Democrats nominated Henry Red Cloud as the party nominee for a spot on the state’s Public Utilities Commission. Red Cloud is the founder and owner of a renewable energy company based in Pine Ridge, Lakota Solar Enterprises.  The company says.  “We believe that reducing our dependence on fossil fuels is important. And on tribal lands, it is imperative. We hope you will join us in helping tribes achieve energy sovereignty.” He calls renewable energy “a new way to honor old ways.”

This is a great story to tell during an election campaign. Voters will be introduced to a creative and innovative energy path that’s creating real jobs now, employing people to build and install solar energy systems. Contrast this with the usual discourse about energy or even the nonsense about how climate change isn’t real.

 

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Idaho Rep. Paulette Jordan

 

Chapter Four: Shhh! Secret success

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

At least 73 American Indians, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians serve in 19 state legislatures. This is important. First, if you look at the body of work of these state senators and representatives, you’ll find them advocating for better service, more funding and improving relationships between tribal nations and state governments. Second, state offices are a source of talent for higher elective office, ranging from Congress to the White House. Remember it was only 1996 when Barack Obama was elected to the Illinois state Senate.

Montana best demonstrates the growing influence of Native Americans in politics.

Twenty years ago, Montana was pretty much like any state with a significant Native population. There were only one or two Native Americans serving in the legislature. Then a Native American candidate won in 1997. And again in 2003. And by 2007 Native Americans in Montana reached ten seats in the legislature; representing 6.6 percent of that body. Montana’s population is 7.4 percent Native American. Today there are 3 Native Americans in the Senate and 5 in the House, some 5.3 percent of the legislature.

To put the Montana percentages in national terms: If Congress were 5.3 percent Native American, there would be 5 U.S. Senators and 21 members of the House. Even if you adjust for population, the number of Native American members of Congress would have to more than double to equal the representation found in Montana.

Why is Montana the model? Hard work. Good candidates. And, when neccessary litigation to enforce the Voting Rights Act.

And there’s another reason why the Native American electoral experience in Montana is different.

The 2004 election of Brian Schweitzer as governor was a game changer. “Never before in Montana’s history has an entire Administration reached out to Indians to ensure they were acknowledged, respected, and most importantly, included,” During those eight years more than 250 “First Montanans” were appointed to boards, councils, commissions and state offices, including many firsts, such as appointments to the Fish and Wildlife commission, athletic commission, building code council and health-related boards. These offices made it clear to the citizens of Montana that Native Americans were a part of the body politic.

The track record of Native American legislators is also pretty good. According to Montana Budget and Policy Center, last year’s session produced a number of innovative laws, including Medicaid expansion (which is a financial boost to the Indian health system) as well as laws that will improve funding for tribal colleges, supporting tribal languages, and streamlining Indian business ventures. The record of Native American legislators was not 100 percent, but it’s likely that during the next session many of the ideas that failed to pass will be back on the agenda.

Oklahoma is the the largest state number of Native American legislators at 14. It’s also the only state with a balance between Democrats and Republicans (8 Democrats and 6 Republicans). To put that number in perspective: Nationally of the 70 elected Native Americans in state legislatures, 58 are Democrats and 12 are Republicans.

It’s also worth noting that tribes in Maine have three automatic delegates to the legislature. The offices are similar to delegates to Congress from the District of Columbia and U.S. Territories. The practice began in 1823 and Maine tribal delegates can serve on committees but cannot vote.

Across the country it’s clear that Native American representation before state governments significantly trails the population of American Indians, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians. For example there are 40 members serving in Alaska House and 20 in the state Senate. Yet only five Alaska Natives represented in the House — or 12.5 percent — and two in the Senate. Yet Alaska has the highest voting age population of Native Americans in the country, some 17 percent.

The growth of Native American voters — and elected officials — is only the beginning of a trend. We know our population is growing faster than the general population. And in many states there is already the number of voters required to build a winning coalition that includes Native communities.

Most of the action in the decade ahead will be at the state level. If you look at the list of some seventy elected state officials it’s clear that there is a wealth of talent such as Alaska’s Sam Kito III or South Dakota’s soon to be Senator Kevin Killer.

Look across the country and you will see why the Native Americans who now serve  in state legislatures are the next generation of leaders in Congress — and even the White House.

So if you want to know who will be Indian Country’s Barack Obama, look to the states.

Her name will be Peggy, Paulette or Winona.

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A final note: There are many people I want to thank for making Trahant Reports possible. Shyanne Beatty and Nola Moses at Native Voice One. It was Shyanne’s idea for my weekly commentary. Nola has been listening to one mic after another, helping me improve the sound for this program. Thank you to both.

I have also had financial support from the First People’s Fund. A special thank you to Jackie Tiller and Rebecca Adamson. Also thanks to Paul DeMain and the Native American Educational Technologies.

Jo Ann Kauffman and Kauffman and Associates was the first sponsor of Trahant Reports — so important, and so helpful, thank you.

And a special shout out to Cara and Ken Hall who gave me an unexpected “family” contribution. Thank you and that’s humbling.

And thank you to the people who listen to this podcast, the weekly commentary on Native Voice One, and the many people who read my reports on my page and across social media. I’m grateful.

We’re about to close the books on the 2016 election. But be assured I will keep writing about the policy choices ahead and what it means for Indian Country.

Until next time. This is Trahant Reports and I am Mark Trahant.

 

#NativeVote16 – Will Republicans stand by Trump? Watch congressional races

 

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Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Montana, and State Supt of Public Instruction Denise Juneau at an August debate in Frazer. (Trahant photo)

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

Let’s start with the big picture. Donald Trump’s recorded revelation of felony intent — and yes, it’s that serious — ought to disqualify him from the presidency. There is no excuse. We are not talking about lewd behavior, consensual relationships, or being boorish. Trump said he can engage in criminal behavior. “When you’re a star, they let you do it,” he said. “You can do anything.”

In less than 24 hours we’re seeing Republicans disinvite Trump from events (as is the case with Paul Ryan) and others reverse their endorsement (as happened in Utah) along with calls for Trump to drop out of the race. This is unprecedented. And expected. We knew this was Donald J. Trump. This tape is only conformation.

Denise Juneau, who’s running for Montana’s only House seat, called on her opponent Rep. Ryan Zinke to withdraw his  endorsement of Trump. “Donald Trump has shown his complete disrespect for women since the beginning of his campaign, but that didn’t stop Congressman Zinke from backing him from day one,” Juneau said in a news release. “Just this week, Congressman Zinke laughed off Trump’s sexist behavior, calling him an ‘equal opportunity offender.’ I’m calling on Congressman Zinke to denounce Trump’s violent remarks, withdraw his endorsement, and apologize for joking about Trump’s consistently offensive language. Montana’s 500,000 mothers, daughters and sisters are watching.”

Watch this discourse play out in every congressional race in the country, including where five Native Americans are on ballots.

Of course most politicians will try to talk about something else. North Dakota’s Kevin Cramer would prefer to talk about energy policy. He sees himself as a key voice for a Trump energy policy. Cramer said this week that the Paris Agreement on climate change is “is unilaterally disarming the American economy at the behest of the world.” And that statement is exactly why he’s on the side of the Dakota Access Pipeline project and ready to roll over the sovereignty or legitimate concerns of the Standing Rock Sioux.

But how can any candidate now be legitimate when talking about Donald Trump? There is no energy policy for a disqualified presidential candidate.

Even before the Trump tape surfaced, Chase Iron Eyes in a debate was pressing Cramer about his views on women. “Today in my debate with Kevin Cramer I said we are creating a 21st century North Dakota; a North Dakota where women earn the same as men for the same work! Where women’s sovereignty over their own bodies must be respected,” Iron Eyes posted on Facebook. Audio of the debate his here.My perceptions of patriarchy are skewed but I have daughters and I was happy to be able to use the word patriarchy in a US Congressional debate, maybe the 1st time in ND history, for a man anyways. For Trump to even suggest or for a man to even ask or consider whether or not a woman should be “punished” for her own serious health care decisions, is conceptually repulsive.”

In Oklahoma, neither Rep. Tom Cole nor Markwayne Mullins have weighed in on the Trump tape yet. However in recent weeks, Cole called Trump  a work in progress. We will see if that is still the line after a few days.

In Washington state, Democrat Joe Pakootas immediately denounced the Trump tape. “As a husband, father & grandparent I am appalled & sickened by the vulgar comments spoken by my opponent’s presidential candidate Donald Trump about women today,” Pakootas posted on Facebook. “Most Americans are outraged & disgusted by this sick behavior. However, last night my opponent again expressed her unwavering support for Mr. Trump. It is beyond time for my opponent to demonstrate some moral courage & put integrity above party politics. I call upon her to stand up for women as a Christian & a leader & condemn this reprehensible behavior. He is not fit to be president & anyone who endorses a man like that does not deserve another term in the United States House of Representatives.”

That last sentence sums up the debate ahead.

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 – From Paris to Standing Rock it’s the climate choices ahead

 

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President Barack Obama congratulates Senior Advisor Brian Deese on the first day of the implementation of the Paris Agreement on climate change, in the Oval Office, Oct. 5, 2016. Deese worked with Secretary of State John Kerry and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy to make the agreement possible. Chief of Staff Denis McDonough watches at left. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Climate math requires fossil fuel subtraction

Mark Trahant / TrahantReports

Ten months ago the United States told the world it was ready to do something about climate change. Enough talk. Time to act. And because of the nature of the crisis, the world’s governments are moving quickly. Well, at least as measured by governments. On Wednesday President Barack Obama said the global agreement will begin implementation on Nov. 4 after being ratified by European nations.

“Today, the world meets the moment.  And if we follow through on the commitments that this agreement embodies, history may well judge it as a turning point for our planet,” the president said.

And the Paris agreement formally begins on Nov. 4, four days before the U.S. presidential election in which Republican Donald Trump opposes the deal as well as science, while Democrat Hillary Clinton strongly supports it.

“Now, the Paris Agreement alone will not solve the climate crisis.  Even if we meet every target embodied in the agreement, we’ll only get to part of where we need to go,” the President said.  But make no mistake, this agreement will help delay or avoid some of the worst consequences of climate change. It will help other nations ratchet down their dangerous carbon emissions over time, and set bolder targets as technology advances, all under a strong system of transparency that allows each nation to evaluate the progress of all other nations. And by sending a signal that this is going to be our future — a clean energy future — it opens up the floodgates for businesses, and scientists, and engineers to unleash high-tech, low-carbon investment and innovation at a scale that we’ve never seen before.  So this gives us the best possible shot to save the one planet we’ve got.”

The test of those words is found at Standing Rock. If, the president, the government, the world, really believe that the agreement will only get us part of where we need to go to avoid the worst consequences of climate change, then stopping the Dakota Access Pipeline is essential.

A recent report by Oil Change International, and a consortium of environmental organizations, calls for a “managed decline of fossil fuel production.” The logic is simple, math. The study measures potential carbon emissions from “where the wells are already drilled, the pits dug, and the pipelines, processing facilities, railways, and export terminals constructed.” Add those numbers up and “the potential carbon emissions from the oil, gas, and coal in the world’s currently operating fields and mines would take us beyond two degrees Celsius of warming.”

In other words: Keep it in the ground is not just a slogan but the answer to the math question, “how does the world meet its target of limiting global warming to 2°C?” Remember, and this is important, two degrees Celsius is supposed to be the upper limit. The Paris agreement calls for nations to work toward a limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius warming, a much more difficult goal.

“Scientists say that to have even a two-thirds chance of staying below a global increase of two degrees Celsius, we can release 800 gigatons more CO2 into the atmosphere,” writes Bill McKibben in The New Republic. “But the Rystad data shows coal mines and oil and gas wells currently in operation worldwide contain 942 gigatons worth of CO2. So the math problem is simple, and it goes like this: 942 > 800.” That’s just to hit the 2 degree target. To reach the more difficult, stretch goal? McKibben says “to have even a 50–50 chance of meeting that goal, we can only release about 353 gigatons more CO2. So let’s do the math again: 942 > 353.”

Even that number. challenging as it is,  does not mean we give up fossil fuels over night. (One of the first dismissals of what was occurring at Standing Rock was by industry supporters who said, “oh, but they drive cars and trucks there …”) As the report puts it: “This does not mean stopping using all fossil fuels overnight. Governments and companies should conduct a managed decline of the fossil fuel industry and ensure a just transition for the workers and communities that depend on it.”

That’s really the key in North Dakota — and beyond. Starting the transition by saying that Dakota Access Pipeline represents our past and a mistake. And as part of a managed decline, major fossil fuel infrastructure projects — this pipeline — are no more.

But what about the jobs? What will this do to North Dakota? Actually it could be a great thing. Data from Stanford researchers shows that the transition to clean energy could happen faster than projected — and benefit a state almost immediately. In North Dakota the Solutions Project says an transformation “plan pays for itself in as little as 2 years from air pollution and climate cost savings alone.” Two years? Imagine the intellectual activity, the construction, the jobs, the fresh investment, all that would come together to make that so. It would be mind-blowing.  The Stanford data says such a transition would create 8,574 permanent operations jobs and 21,744 construction jobs.

The White House listed its accomplishments on climate change Wednesday. A couple of pages of investments in clean energy, new pollution rules, car standards, and generally creative thinking. But there was no plan for a managed decline. There was no math behind the numbers.

But this global challenge, the data of climate change, adds up to one thing: Standing Rock is a test. The United States cannot meet its obligations to the world if it continues business as usual. It’s just not possible, the math of carbon emissions cannot be wished away. The people who are camped at Standing Rock are giving President Obama the opportunity to show how a managed decline is possible. And, if done right, inspiring. As the president said, “this gives us the best possible shot to save the one planet we’ve got.”

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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Report by Oil Change International scientifically grounds the growing movement to keep carbon in the ground by revealing the need to stop all new fossil fuel infrastructure and industry expansion.

#NativeVote16 – A graphic guide to the Republican National Convention

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