Candidate Julián Castro: Respect sovereignty, honor treaties & do right

Democrat Julián Castro is the second national candidate to visit the Meskwaki Nation in Iowa. (Photo by Kolby KickingWoman)

Democratic candidate Julián Castro: 'Doing right by Indigenous communities is not only a matter of the right thing to do but the constitutional thing to do'

A day after releasing the most comprehensive platform on Indigenous issues from any presidential candidate, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro visited the Meskwaki Indian Settlement in Tama, Iowa, on Friday.

Just outside the Meskwaki Tribal Center, on a hot and windy afternoon, a sizeable crowd came out to meet the presidential hopeful. He was the second person vying for the Democratic nomination to stop by this year, Montana Governor Steve Bullock also made a visit in May.

Castro began by acknowledging the event was taking place on the traditional lands of the Meskwaki Nation, adding that he had the opportunity to visit the tribal museum prior to speaking. 

He said he’s running for president to ensure that everyone can reach their dreams. 

Democratic candidate Julián Castro began his speech by acknowledging the event was taking place on the traditional lands of the Meskwaki Nation. (Photo by Kolby KickingWoman)

“I’ve spent the last six months of this campaign, outlining a vision for the future for this country,” Castro said. “That in the years to come, in this 21st century, that we shall be the smartest, the healthiest, the fairest and the most prosperous country in the 21st century.”

Castro has unique experience working with tribes across the country. He already knows many of the issues Native communities face from his service as Housing and Urban Development Secretary under President Obama. This was the driving force behind the planning and release of the campaign's platform, “Peoples First Indigenous Communities Policy.”

“Our Indigenous communities are rich with their own history, with so many different assets that they bring to this country of ours,” Castro said. “I want to make sure that we respect their sovereignty, that we honor our treaty obligations and that we recognize that doing right by Indigenous communities is not only a matter of the right thing to do but the constitutional thing to do.”

The Sac & Fox Tribe of the Mississippi in Iowa is the only federally recognized tribe in the state. The name is Meskwaki means "Red Earth People."

At the conclusion of his speech, Christina Blackcloud, Meskwaki, presented Castro with a beaded medallion. She said it’s always enlightening to have a presidential candidate take the time out of their schedules to visit and hopes other candidates  take the opportunity to do the same.

Looking forward to 2020, Blackcloud spoke to the importance of the Native vote as well as the upcoming census.

“It’s important to be a part of the democratic process, basically have your voice heard. We are still here, that’s the main thing,” Blackcloud said. “We have a long, rich history. Our ancestors definitely fought for us to be here and we’re here and I hope we all step up and represent our tribal nations.”

Another tribal member in attendance, Donnielle Wanatee, shared similar sentiments to Blackcloud in regards to speaking up and getting out the Native vote in 2020. Wanatee expressed that Natives need to lead the way.

“We’ve been here in this country longer than anybody and so we see what’s been going on,” Wanatee said. “So now we need to speak up and teach everybody how to live amongst this world in the climate change era and also amongst people of other nationalities.”

After his weekend in Iowa, Castro’s next date is the second Democratic debate on July 31. When it comes to national policy discussions on big stages such as the presidential debate, Indian Country is not mentioned.

When asked if he’d give a shoutout to Indian Country given the chance, Castro made no guarantees.

“I certainly have Indian Country at the top of mind and I’m going to try to do everything that I can in our debate and shine a light on people in this country who are often overlooked, and too often Indigenous communities are often overlooked,” Castro said with a smile.

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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 -

Comments (11)
No. 1-8

I'm just excited to see Any candidate mentioning indigenous people. I can't remember ever having seen this before, anywhere! It will be interesting to see if he walks this talk, and I would think it would definitely be on Indian Country's radar. Looking forward to follow-ups with this.


Da'an'zho Relatives! Its encouraging to see Julian Castro taking up the Indigenous protocols, and learning the key talking points in Indigenous peoples' communities and territories--outside Texas. However, I strongly caution Indigenous Peoples throughout the US and territories to do their research. In his home state, Castro has an extremely passive and negative record with regard to the colossal social, cultural, spiritual, economic, and political disenfranchisement, non-recognition, marginalization, impoverishment, and severe structural discrimination against the state's 200,000+ Indigenous peoples who are of/from/belong to the lands. Castro's 'progressive' identity needs to be critically unpacked by discerning Indigenous voters. He may be a quick learner (now) of 'fast-track' Indigenous protocol performance, however, be mindful -- and take it from many Indigenous nations in Texas--he has most likely never visited our communities, he probably can't tell you who are the still living and existing and legitimate Treaty-based Tribes of Texas, who are the Land Grant Land holding Indigenous Nations in Texas, and what are the top 5 key pressing concerns of Indigenous Peoples in his own state. Ask him about the Indigenous self-determination struggles of the Nde' against the wall, and put him on the spot with regard to the disastrous 4th world conditions of Nde' and relative Indigenous peoples' land struggles, human rights and Indigenous rights struggles--taken up to the UN in Geneva --which critiqued the passivity of Anglo and Hispanic establishment politicians. Ask him if he has knowledge, has researched, or ever did anything meaningful about the unsettled Indigenous land claims throughout Texas based on Aboriginal Title in Texas, Lipan Apache vs. U.S. 1971. If Castro can't do his due diligence in his own home state, what makes one believe he'll suddenly be a true ally and advocate for Indigenous Peoples throughout the US? These are fair questions. All the candidates in the US should be held accountable to the legacy of settler colonialism which they are linked to, regardless of their identity. They need to be tasked to critically address Indigenous Peoples' deep concerns with our on-going occupied and traumatized Native lands by settlers--including settler Texans--and all who identify strongly with private property rights over Indigenous sovereignty and Indigenous self-determination. Be fearless. Don't be easy on him. He looks really cute in that beaded medallion--however, I'm not sure that he's earned the right or has done the work to be wearing such a sacred and beautifully crafted expression of Indigenous Power. Relatives, the stakes are extremely high for Indigenous Peoples throughout occupied lands. Hold Him Accountable. Ask. Hard. Questions. Be Brave. #indigenousunity Ixe'he!


Further, I would ask--in order to build respectful, responsible, trusting, and lasting unity between current-day Native Indigenous peoples and Indigenous Peoples of Texas--to demonstrate solidarity with us by insisting that Julian Castro and all other candidates running with an Indigenous rights platform do their due diligence in their home states, demonstrate their deep engagement in their own home state's and home community's Indigenous Peoples (currently living please!!!!), and commit to doing their work at home--and showing evidence of that--before receiving your vote. Ixe'he! #IndigenousSolidarity #IndigenousUnityForAll #BeyondSelfInterestsPolitics


Let me see if I get this straight. Castro panders to Native Americans by demanding sovereignty for them, but hypocritically encourages illegal aliens to flout U.S. immigration laws?


I like Julián Castro, and I'm glad he went to visit the Sac and Fox / Meskwaki. But we'll see where his promises end up. It was a good question he was asked, whether he will make a point of mentioning Indigenous Peoples' issues during the televised debates. In his favor, at least he has bothered to show this much interest, however limited.