When I spend time on North Dakota reservations, so many friends ask me how I am holding up from all of the negative attacks from out-of-state millionaires. My response is to simply tell them why I got in this race. I am in this is for the child who wants to get a quality education. I am in this for the senior who wants a quality health care system. I am in it for the woman who wants to feel safe in her community. I am in it for the veteran who deserves a job and adequate health care. No false attack can take a way my desire to improve the lives of everyone in our state and be a voice for Indian Country in the U.S. Senate.
As Attorney General, I spent countless hours working on issues important to North Dakota tribes. It was clear to me then as it is today that we must honor the self-governance for which American Indians fought so hard. Additionally, the U.S. government must honor its treaty and trust responsibilities. As Senator, I will meet with tribal leaders frequently to hear directly what needs to be done to improve the lives of North Dakota Native Americans. I will also seek a seat on the Indian Affairs Committee to continue the work of influential North Dakota Senators like Quentin Burdick, Byron Dorgan and Kent Conrad.
When I am in the Senate, I will fight to ensure that Native American children have access to quality schools. When I was at a recent rally in Standing Rock, I saw so many young children who I know can go on to be tomorrow’s leaders, if they are given the opportunity. We need to provide Native students with quality education materials, school buildings and teachers. We also need to remove barriers put in place by the federal government through No Child Left Behind. Additionally, I will push for investments in our tribal colleges so that every student has access to higher education and training for jobs.
In the Senate, I will also fight to improve Indian country health care. I have seen firsthand the dire needs on our reservations and am committed to righting this wrong. Improving preventive care will solve many problems as individuals will see primary care doctors and dentists on a regular basis, not just when conditions are serious. We also need to give our seniors access to quality care that doesn’t force them to drive for hours on end. The Indian Healthcare Improvement Act was a step in the right direction and I will fight to improve it and protect it from repeal.
In addition to improving education, health care and housing in Indian country, one of my biggest priorities is enhancing public safety. This is not only good for local economies, it helps individuals enjoy a basic standard of living. I will push for adequate funding and improved communication between tribal, state and federal law enforcements to help make this happen. The current system is not working for many in Indian country, especially women. Right now, Native American women are 3.5 times more likely to be abused than any other group. Washington has failed to do a lot of important things lately. When I get there, I will push to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act so that all women feel safe in their communities.
This election will have a major impact on the future of North Dakota. It is incredibly important for everyone in Indian Country to make their voice heard and vote. A young boy I met on the campaign trail named Tucker described it best. Tucker, of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, was encouraging other Native Americans to vote. He told his friends that if they don’t vote, they are letting down their ancestors who fought so hard for the right to vote. Tucker also passionately said that if Native American’s don’t vote, it will be much harder for an American Indian to become President of the United States. I ask for your vote this election and pledge to be a voice for Indian Country in the U.S. Senate.
Heidi Heitkamp is a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate in North Dakota.