On Wednesday, Nick Carter, deputy political director for the Bernie Sanders campaign, gave an update on new Native American policy initiatives at the National Congress of American Indians Winter Session in Washington, D.C.
Carter told gathered leaders from across the country, “We are very proud that the campaign thus far has done very well with Native primary voters and we want to continue to not only harness that vote but to earn it.”
He was referencing Sanders’ landslide victory in a predominantly Native American precinct in Iowa and relatively strong showing in the Nevada caucuses where Sanders won the Duck Valley Reservation, but failed to win all three delegates on the Walker River Paiute Reservation.
In a videotaped message to NCAI members, Sanders reaffirmed his campaign’s previous promises to Indian country announced at the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians meeting earlier this month. These include honoring Native American nations right to clean drinking water and right to deny projects that might endanger homelands like the Keystone XL pipeline. Sanders will continue initiatives begun by the Obama administration like Generation Indigenous, the White House Tribal Nations Conference, and retain the position of Native American policy advisor.
In addition to these, Carter presented four new initiatives which focus on greater tribal input and access to federal funds:
“A Sanders presidency would be committed to mandating that all agencies have a senior level tribal appointee with direct access to a secretary or administrator to ensure the tribal interests are never ignored.
“Secondly, a Sanders administration pledges a reexamination and strengthening of Executive Order 13175, ‘Consultation and Coordination with Indian Tribal Governments.’ Which unfortunately, still allows for decision-making prior to hearing from affected tribes. This campaign firmly believes that consultation cannot merely be listening sessions. It needs to make rapid progress toward collaboration and true cooperation in all stages of decision-making.
“Thirdly, a Sanders administration pledges to require a position within the Office of Management and Budget to exclusively serve tribal affairs. As far too many proposed policies and programs have fallen to the wayside. We must create a new capability within the OMB that will help implement the administration’s programs in a coordinated way. This will achieve the goal of consistency in federal policy and programs across the board throughout all federal agencies.
“Finally, Sen. Sanders also pledges to mandate that all federal grants that are open to state and/or local government are also open to tribes. Bernie is leading by example on this and has already ensured that his own proposals are open. For example, in July low-income solar act funds were made available to state and local governments but also to tribes including Native Alaskans and Native Hawaiians. He understands that there are ongoing issues with inconsistent in eligibility for federal funds. Tribal governments must be treated on par with state and local governments to ensure equal access for federal dollars.”
Carter also asked for Native voters to bear with the campaign as they put together “a more coherent outreach platform.”
There has been, however, some complaint on how the Sanders campaign handled meeting with tribes during the Nevada caucuses.
Myron Dewey from the Walker River Paiute tribe was a volunteer who helped coordinate outreach for Sanders in Nevada. He noted in a Facebook post that, “Thirteen more Bernie supporters at the Walker River Paiute Tribes Caucus would have won Bernie a Win… Due to his tight schedule, he missed his meeting with tribal leaders who awaited his arrival. I am still a Bernie supporter, but hoping one of his advisors will turn to Indian Country and hire on a Native mover and shaker to help him with the Native Vote and the ‘Native Voice.’
Another volunteer in Nevada, David Michael Karabelnikoff, an Alaska Native, echoed Dewey’s concerns. He shared them in a Reddit post titled, ‘Bernie Sander’s Native American Outreach & Reconciliation’ where he said, “Community members continue to inquire when Bernie will meet with Tribal Leaders…I am curious why wasn’t a statewide Tribal Outreach position created in the first primary with a significant Native American population.”
Karabelnikoff told ICTMN, “If we’d had three more people (caucus-goers) at each of three precincts we could have gotten Bernie three more delegates at the local level.”
He believes that if the campaign had started six weeks earlier with outreach the Native vote could have delivered those extra delegates. It’s why he is urging the campaign to begin earlier in other states with a significant Native population like his own state of Alaska where it is 15 percent Native.
“We recognize that American Indians and Alaskan Natives have been marginalized by electoral politics for too long,” Carter admitted in his NCAI speech.
Nicole Willis (Umatilla) Native American policy advisor to the Bernie Sanders campaign assured ICTMN that the campaign is working hard on addressing this.
“We are working on a thorough policy platform, and I think any good policy platform creates pathways for reconciliation.”
Willis was herself the full-time national tribal outreach coordinator for the Obama campaign in 2008. A position that was not created until June of that election year. (Late this week, Tara Houska joined Willis as another Native policy advisor to the Sanders campaign.)
And as frustrated as Karabelnikoff feels after seeing opportunities for Native voter turnout to deliver delegates for Bernie slip away, he sees it as a positive step that Native voters are demanding such attention now in February.
“Bernie’s been fighting the good fight for a long time and if you take the time to research his record he deserves some respect. We are lucky to have him running.”
Jacqueline Keeler is a Navajo/Yankton Dakota Sioux writer living in Portland, Oregon and co-founder of Eradicating Offensive Native Mascotry, creators of Not Your Mascot. She has been published in Telesur, Earth Island Journal and the Nation and interviewed on MSNBC and DemocracyNow and Native American Calling. She has a forthcoming book called “Not Your Disappearing Indian” and podcast. On twitter: @jfkeeler