On Friday, in the midst of the social media storm over Senator Bernie Sanders’ meeting with a small house finch that landed on his podium, Hillary Clinton’s campaign announced the endorsement of her nomination by more than 30 Native American leaders in Washington State including NCAI president and Swinomish Indian Tribe Chairman Brian Cladoosby and Puyallup Tribe of Indians chairman Bill Sterud, whose tribe had given Clinton the Lushootseed name: tsiw?l?x??i which is pronounced “tsee-wuh-luh-x?wee” and means “Strong Woman.”
“Secretary Clinton has a long history of working on issues of importance to Native Americans,” Cladoosby said in his personal endorsement. “From her work on the Indian Health Care Improvement Act and Children’s Health Insurance Program, to supporting the United States’ role in the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Hillary has long been by our side. I know, as President, that she will continue fighting for us and building on the progress we have experienced in the last eight years,”
This follows a tribal roundtable held at the Puyallup Indian Reservation on March 22 where the candidate met with more than 20 tribal leaders about issues pressing to their communities.
Concerns over preservation of First Foods and tribal traditions were brought up again and again.
“We need to invest more in salmon restoration,” Sterud told Clinton and asked what her commitment would be to restoring Puget Sound if she is elected.
Coal and oil trains which use Washington State as a thoroughfare to get to markets across the Pacific, pose a serious threat to the investment tribes have put into restoring and preserving their First Food habitats like that of the salmon.
JoDe Goudy, chairman of the Yakama Nation was unequivocal telling Clinton that he wants these fossil fuel transports to stop going through their lands as, “We are seeing significant impact with regard to our traditional foods, our lands.”
Ironically, some of the increase in coal is coming from the Crow tribe of Montana which is planning on developing another coal mine and to ship the coal to China by transporting it in uncovered train cars along the Columbia River which could undo decades of habitat restoration work, totaling millions of dollars of investment, done by tribes like the Yakama Nation. Many millions more than the Crow tribe would earn from selling the coal.
Clinton declared she was at the meeting to listen and promised the leaders, “I look to be a good partner with all of you, in fulfilling our treaty and our trust, and our relationship responsibilities.”
This is not the first time Clinton has met with tribal leaders, she has also held a meeting with tribal leaders in Arizona on March 21st and first announced her Native American policy committee by video at the National Congress of American Indians convention in San Diego in October. Committee members include advisor Holly Cook Macarro (Red Lake Ojibway) an attorney/lobbyist, and co-chairs Rion Ramirez (Turtle Mountain Chippewa) an attorney, and Charlie Galbraith (Navajo) also an attorney.
On her website is a factsheet called “Growing Together: Hillary Clinton’s Vision for Building a Brighter Future for Native Americans” laying out her positions on key issues in Indian country. Speaking to ICTMN, Ramirez said that he, Kim Teehee (Cherokee) a former White House advisor and Galbraith all played an active role in developing this policy document for the campaign.
A Clinton administration would support the expansion of the 2013 Violence Against Women’s Act to include Native Alaskans, who are presently excluded from the law. VAWA, co-sponsored by her opponent Sanders is notable because it marks the first expansion of tribal jurisdiction over non-Indians in 40 years.
She promises to respect tribal sovereignty and provide meaningful consultation with tribes. And, in particular interest to Washington State tribal leaders, promises to “work collaboratively with tribes and Alaska Native communities to sustainably and cooperatively manage fish and wildlife and protect the air, water, and other natural resources in Indian country.”
Clinton has also promised to continue Obama’s White House Tribal Nations Conference and to “work to appoint Native Americans to key positions in federal agencies and nominate qualified judges who understand tribal sovereignty and the government-to-government relationship.”
“I want to talk about what working families are up against across the country. I want to talk about how we have a new bargain so you can get ahead and stay ahead, in every industrial city, small town, farm country, Indian country, every community that has been hollowed out lost jobs and lost hopes.”
Clinton did well in Nevada and Macarro attributes that to the campaign’s early commitment to reaching out to the Native American voters in that state. An Atlantic Magazine article from August traces the work of Native volunteers under the direction of campaign staffer Jaynie Parrish (Navajo) and the leadership of Arlen Melendez, chairman of the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony who worked tirelessly for the campaign.
Although, Sanders’ support in a progressive state like Washington proved impossible to overcome this past Saturday (he won with more than 70 percent of the vote) the Native American leadership in her campaign plans to persevere in reaching out to Native voters in the upcoming primaries of Wisconsin and New York.
“We plan on continuing to work with tribal and community leaders in every state,” Macarro told ICTMN. “This will only get done through consultation and the guidance of tribal leadership across Indian country.”
Jacqueline Keeler is a Navajo/Yankton Dakota Sioux writer living in Portland, Oregon and co-founder of Eradicating Offensive Native Mascotry. 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