The case for being Native American and Republican

Johnson and Bergstrom write: Native American tribes naturally fall into a conservative/libertarian model of government

Kirsten Johnson and Donna Bergstrom

We believe the Native American culture is in the beginning of a massive political shift to the right. It’s no surprise that all two of Native Americans elected at the federal level (Tom Cole and Markwayne Mullin) are both Republican.

Our history in American politics, like most things relating to American history for our culture, has been volatile and at the direction of external forces. Clearly, we had little to say about the forming of the modern United State of America, but let’s go a little past that to see how the Republican Party of Minnesota best understands that individuals know best how to govern their lives.

It wasn’t until 1817 that the first Native Americans were granted US Citizenship (irony, right?) when 300 Cherokee had it provisionally included in a treaty. Then, in 1931, the Choctaw followed suit, and not only requested citizenship, but also to have a member in the House of Representatives.

However, as we were playing the U.S. political game, they set the rules, and they said to become a citizen, the Native American would have to “leave his nation or tribe and take up abode among the white population” (Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, 1857, appointed by a Democrat President) but at least we had a seat at the table. That would become irrelevant with the Indian Appropriations Act of 1871, when they considered all of our tribes invalid and all treaties revocable. It was only then that we saw the terror of total government control.

First, the government took our education. They said they could teach us better than our elders, traditions, and oral history. They told our parents that the government run boarding schools would help us get good jobs and quality lives in the new United States. We trusted them, but we had our language beat out of us, our history erased and replaced with a whitewashed version of events, and these impressionable babies were made to think their own families and their tribes we stupid and savage so they would aspire to the Anglo-Saxon way of life. We know how important it is to let us decide how to teach our children, and not conform to written standards, but move back to our oral and nature based learning that guided us for so long.

Then, with the children separated, the government came for our weapons. They knew the value of the 2nd Amendment from their experience against the British, but we hadn't learned those lessons with them. So when the white generals who we trusted and fought alongside in the Civil War, told us to turn in our weapons because they could take care of us better, with their organized militia and technological advances, we trusted them. We sat in camps unarmed with white men on all sides and they betrayed us. Wounded Knee is remembered as a massacre, not a battle, because we had already surrendered when they asked for our weapons politely. The government is leading another “well-intentioned” gun grab based on worst case scenarios and fear mongering, but WE know the outcome and we can’t let history repeat itself.

Native American tribes naturally fall into a conservative/libertarian model, where the rules start at the most local level and move up. First, you listen to your family above all else. Then, your village, and the people who you take care of and who take care of you day to day. From there, you support the tribe and you fight for them, and speak their language, but little else.

The LAST levels, and the levels we never even recognized for all the centuries before the 1400s, are national or continental. We didn’t pretend that the same rules for the Ojibwe in the north could ever work for the Apache in the south, the Oneida in the east, or Chinook in the Pacific Northwest. We valued our own cultures and kept our nations separate. That is what eventually led to our downfall as a people, that we couldn’t defend the entire land as we were too factioned to fight a foreign invader.

We need to fight like hell for our autonomy and we need to band together as a diverse and full group of First Nations to stand up and say that we need a voice at the table.

We need to move away from dependence on a government that doesn’t truly care for us the way we cared for our villages.

We need more representation, we need to play the game and speak out at every level of government.

We are imploring our fellow Natives of all tribes and corners of the United States to take your next step in getting involved and having a say in government. Improve your own life, then volunteer in your community, run for tribal board, run for state and national political office, volunteer in your community, take care of your family - bring back the values to speak for our culture on the tallest soapboxes and loudest voices again. The true conservative movement believes in you and your abilities, believe in us to support you in getting there.

Kirsten Johnson, Leech Lake Ojibwe, is former US Army medic, and candidate Minnesota House 50A. Donna Bergstrom, Red Lake Chippewa, is a retired Marine, and a Republican candidate for the Lt. Governor of Minnesota.

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The Libertarian party with its emphasis on less federal control segues with Native values and traditions and might even provide a faster return to sovereignty. I can remember, too, that Clyde Warrior backed Barry Goldwater, not because he was Republican or in favor of a strong military, but because he thought the Native tribes would fare better--he did not see the trend of government dependence as a positive thing for Natives. Donald Trump is hardly a Republican at any rate. He is a power hungry and attention loving egoist who lucked into the Republican presidential slot because so many Democrats crossed over in the primaries (in a hideous attempt to help Hillary's chances; no one believed Trump could win, and he seemed a much easier opponent than Rubio or Kucinich.) On the Republican side, though, is Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch (surprisingly nominated by Trump) who has a history of siding with Natives on treaties. It's not about which party as much as it is about what the Native candidate can accomplish under the demands of the chosen party. There is always an expectation of party loyalty which could backfire in terms of tribal priorities. I hope the Native candidates, whichever party, are able to use their position to help their tribes and further the definition of Native sovereignty.


Most of my life I have been ashamed of my mainly white roots. This article makes me ashamed of my native ones. What drivel!

Michael Rainy Chief
Michael Rainy Chief

If these two are the hope of Natives, they've got a lot of education to catch up on. There are numerous errors in this article. The reasoning of their argument is based on 150 year old political designations that have now switched (Dixiecrats are now staunch Republicans). How sad that any Natives believe weapons are the basis of voting. Government gun grab? What are you talking about? This article is paranoid Trumpism. On one hand you are berating the government for treating all Natives the same, yet you're "imploring" all Natives to vote and act the same. What a joke. Native values do not start with the individual and family. Talk about getting globalization and Native values confused. The majority of Native values expect one to work for the betterment of the community over the individual. I couldn't be more ashamed that you two are representing Natives in politics. How embarassing for our peoples.

Avram ben Aharon
Avram ben Aharon

To hell with both the republicans and the democrats. Let us trust the ways of our fathers and try and stay true to it as best we can.