Political parties in the United States reflect differing values about current and future U.S. well being. Both parties hold up the tradition of a democratic and market based U.S. state and society in somewhat different ways.
At its best America is about equal economic opportunity, human rights, civil rights, freedom of speech, gender rights, and freedom of religion. The fundamental values of the United States are based on a history of immigrants who have come to a new world to enjoy the advantages of market economy, individual accumulation, and equal rights. The mythology and vision of the United States focuses on amalgamating culturally different groups of immigrants and turning them into American citizens with American values and goals. Recently there has been more accommodation to differences in culture, race, and ethnicity.
The political parties and candidates have differing support groups and differing ways to achieve the goals of integration and participation into the fruits of American society. The Democrats resemble a city machine, and address their transfer payments and programs toward the working class and poorer ethnic and racial groups. The general Democrat position fosters class inclusion by working to level the playing field in ways that offer class and inter-generational upward mobility.
For Hillary Clinton, addressing Indian issues is to a large extent relying on programs and funding, while providing little leadership direction other than escape from poverty and class advancement. Republicans ultimately believe in the Protestant Ethic and the ability of the market to sort out the distribution of wealth to those who work hard to earn their income. In many ways, Donald Trump’s few statements addressing American Indian issues suggests he understands Indians as a group of people with few financial resources who should adopt American economic values so they will do better as competitors within the market place.
Many American Indians are both members of a tribe and also citizens of the United States. The civil rights movement for American Indians was the Termination policy of the 1950s, and resulted in the anti-termination movements of the 1960s and 1970s. American Indians tend to be agreeable to U.S. citizenship, but not at the price of forfeiting their traditions of tribal self-government, land, and preserving their cultures. Since the Indian Self-Determination and Education Act of 1975, there have been few new statements about American Indian policy. While lip service is paid to the government-to-government relations of self-determination policy, policy action has not gone far enough beyond the sub-contracting of select federal programs.
American Indians do not want to assimilate wholly into American culture, but rather want to be U.S. citizens who retain their indigenous rights to land, self-government and culture. In this regard, Clinton at least is aware and supportive of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). It is not clear whether Donald Trump has any knowledge of UNDRIP, let alone has he given any support to any of the ideas presented in UNDRIP.
Between the two parties, Clinton seems the most agreeable candidate to help Indian country move in a positive direction. Nevertheless, the parties and candidates do not provide an explicit policy vision for tribal communities that prioritizes, acknowledges and builds tribal governments, economies, rights and powers in ways that enable American Indian people to control their own futures, and make their own decisions about engaging in markets, intergovernmental relations, and maintaining culture. Presidential and federal elections are the times for setting out new and better policies. Creating Indian policy that will empower governments and communities and foster indigenous market solutions to work and capital formation are not well addressed by either party or most Congressional candidates. Hillary Clinton and the democrats are the party of choice for the moment, but they still have a lot of work to do to address economic and self-governance issues in Indian country.