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.
“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.
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