The first democractic candidate to declare he was running for president was former Maryland Rep. John Delaney and since his campaign launched, he has visited all 99 counties in Iowa.
Although on Tuesday afternoon at the Orpheum Theater in Sioux City, Iowa, Delaney stepped in front of an audience he may have been addressing for the first time: Indian Country.
He began by thanking the people in attendance and spoke of the importance of having a forum dedicated to the issues, concerns and opportunities for Indigenous people and communities.
“I think it’s extraordinary that you decided to do this and that your voices will be heard in this presidential election,” Delaney said in his opening remarks.
As with many candidates who took part in the Frank LaMere Native American Presidential Forum, the first question came from Marcella LeBeau, a 99-year-old World War II veteran who asked candidates about their stance on the “Remove the Stain Act.”
The Act would rescind 20 Medals of Honor that were awarded to members of the 7th Cavalry who massacred hundreds of unarmed Lakota people, many of whom were women and children, at the Wounded Knee Massacre.
The question positioned candidates for an easy “slam dunk” to begin their discussions with tribal leaders on the panels, yet Delaney committed a minor gaffe in his answer.
“The number of innocent women and children who were killed in that battle is stunning,” Delaney said.
“It wasn’t a battle,” LeBeau quickly responded to correct the former congressman.
“It wasn’t a battle, I’m sorry, in the incident, it wasn’t a battle,” Delaney replied. “The number of women and children that were killed and massacred in that situation you just described, is appalling.”
Delaney did say if that legislation were to cross his desk as president he would sign it, which received applause from the audience.
At another moment later in the panel, Delaney had a back and forth on healthcare with Chair of the National Indian Health Board, Victoria Kitcheyan. She asked how Delaney, as president, would provide high quality care for future generations of Native Americans.
Delaney briefly described how his plan would reform the current system and provide the proper funding to provide quality healthcare for Native American communities.
“I would want that the national, universal healthcare system that I build for all the citizens of this country to be available to your community, because I think it would be a better option than what you have now,” Delaney said. “There are alternatives to achieving that, which is to allow it to continue to be an independent, separate system and funding it at sufficient levels. I think either of those are potentially good options for improving the quality of the Indian Healthcare System.”
Kitcheyan was quick to tell Delaney that would not work for Indian Country.
“Sir, I just have to respond, that would not work for Indian Country, universal healthcare,” said Kitcheyan, a council member for the Winnebago tribe of Nebraska. “We are a distinct political nation and please, just put that out of your mind on a solution for Indian Country.”
Delaney clarified his answer by saying that having an option available gives people the choice to choose what is best for them.
“The nice thing about an option is people can choose not to accept the option and that’s fine,” Delaney responded. “I just think that it’s always good to have the option because for certain people or certain communities, at a moment in time, that might be a better alternative. That doesn’t, in my judgment, relieve the federal government of its obligation to ensure that communities have high quality healthcare.”
Delaney said the next president needs to be someone who can hear many voices and take to heart their issues and concerns. He said as it relates to the issues for Native Americans, from healthcare to criminal justice to education to housing, the outcomes are far-lagging compared to other communities in this country.
As president, he said he would be a leader committed to tribal sovereignty and committed to honoring the obligations of the United States.
“These are the commitments that I believe you need from someone who wants to be the President of the United States and I plan on making those commitments,” Delaney said.
Two Democratic candidates dropped out of the presidential race on Thursday. Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee. Both will run for re-election in their own states. This leaves 22 candidates bidding for the party nomination.
Kolby KickingWoman is a reporter/producer for Indian Country Today. He is Blackfeet/Gros Ventre from the great state of Montana and currently reports and lives in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter - @KDKW_406. Email - firstname.lastname@example.org