Heidi Heitkamp, the Democratic Senate candidate for North Dakota, wants to reach as many Native North Dakotans as possible, while ensuring that her message is both timely and relevant. For that reason, she enlisted the help of Mandan/Hidatsa attorney Diane Johnson this past August, naming her the director of her Native American campaign.
Johnson, an enrolled member of the Three Affiliated Tribes of the Fort Berthold Reservation, is the right woman for the job. Having worked as a program analyst for the Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians in Albuquerque, New Mexico; as legal counsel for the Three Affiliated Tribes; and as a U.S. probate judge for the Department of the Interior, Johnson is a perfect voice for North Dakota’s Indian constituents.
“Heidi understands the issues,” says Johnson. “She knows what is at stake. She is the first candidate in North Dakota to publicly recognize Native sovereignty and treaty rights. She understands the pressing issues that all tribes face nationwide, but she is also aware of the local issues that Indians of North Dakota are dealing with. I got involved because I am convinced that she will do whatever needs to be done and will work together with the tribes to get it done.”
Johnson points to Heitkamp’s stance on healthcare as proof of the candidate’s tenacity. “The Obama healthcare plan is a key issue here in North Dakota—70 percent of the state’s residents believe it should be repealed. The Republican senatorial candidate Rick Berg has vowed to work to repeal it, but Heidi supports the Indian Healthcare Improvement Act that is part of the plan, and she argues that it must be preserved. A less sincere candidate would have caved on that issue,” she says.
Johnson believes Heitkamp has given Native North Dakotans a real reason for hope, as well as a sense of inclusion, especially through her strong position on local issues. “Through past policies, Indians and tribes have been set up for failure,” she says referring to governmental quick fixes that don’t consider the roots of problems. Such temporary solutions may be programs like anger management, parenting classes, or alcohol training. “No one looks beyond the immediate problem at the real source of frustration; law enforcement restrictions, lack of jobs, inaccessible healthcare, or inadequate housing. Many North Dakotans don’t realize the living conditions people put up with on the reservations. Many still have only wood burning stoves and no running water. Heidi understands because she’s spent a lot of time out there, and she sees what needs to be done.”
In the effort to get the word out, Johnson says Heitkamp has put in the miles. “She has traveled to community and tribal colleges, and sat down with tribal and private organizations. She has spoken at rallies and powwows, and met with tribal council representatives. She works tirelessly canvassing and talking to everyone she meets. She is really committed.”
Another reason Johnson has chosen to work for Heitkamp is her unwavering support for the Violence Against Women Act. Johnson, who lives on the rural Fort Berthold Reservation, a region now overrun with oil workers, has seen the deterioration of the area firsthand. “Department of Justice stats show a huge rise in violent crime in our area—90 percent of those crimes were committed by non-Indians against Indian women. Berg votes against this bill every time it comes up, leaving our women and children unprotected. Heidi will see that Indian women are afforded the same protection as all others in America.”
Johnson vows to fight for Heitkamp until the end. “Every vote counts,” she says. “The work can’t stop until every one of our people has had a chance to hear what she has to say. Heidi Heitkamp is good for Native North Dakota.”