“Time and time again, our Native American brothers and sisters have seen the federal government break solemn promises, and huge corporations put profits ahead of the sovereign rights of Native communities. I will stand with Native Americans in the struggle to protect their treaty and sovereign rights, advance traditional ways of life, and improve the quality of life for Native communities.” – Bernie Sanders
Native Americans are the first Americans, yet they have for far too long been treated as third class citizens. It is unconscionable that today, in 2016, Native Americans still do not always have the right to decide on important issues that affect their communities. The United States must not just honor Native American treaty rights and tribal sovereignty, it must also move away from a relationship of paternalism and control and toward one of deference and support. The United States has a duty to ensure equal opportunities and justice for all of its citizens, including the 2.5 million Native Americans that share this land. It is no secret that this isn’t the case today.
The statistics are staggering.
Native Americans continue to face appalling levels of inequality and systemic injustice. One in four Native Americans are living in poverty and the high school graduation rate is 67 percent, the lowest of any racial demographic group. The second leading cause of death for Native Americans between the ages of 15-24 is suicide. One in three Native women will be raped in her lifetime; most of the offenders are non-Native. Most federal programs for tribal nations are underfunded, which has led to inadequate housing, healthcare, education, and law enforcement. Native Americans have a much lower life expectancy and higher uninsured rates than the population at large, and even those who have health insurance often have difficulty accessing the care they need.
Although Native American tribes are supposed to be sovereign nations with the right to self-governance, the United States has greatly exacerbated the struggles of Indian Country because of its failure to support basic principles of self-determination. Native Americans are more likely to be killed by police than any other racial group and the rate of violent crime against them is twice the national average. Yet, because the federal courts have chipped away at tribal sovereignty, tribal nations are often unable to prosecute criminal offenders for violent crimes that occur within tribal borders. Tribal governments are distinct sovereigns, and should be recognized as such – they must have the autonomy and authority to protect their own peoples.
In congress, Bernie has worked to resolve the many issues and injustices facing tribal communities.
- In 2013, Bernie cosponsored the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act, which expanded tribal jurisdiction over domestic violence crimes and provided additional funding for tribal criminal justice systems and victim services.
- Bernie introduced the Save Oak Flat Act with Rep. Raul Grijalva to repeal a federal lands transfer of sacred lands in Arizona to a foreign mining company.
- Bernie voted to make the Indian Health Care Improvement Act permanent, and to expand healthcare services for Native Americans.
- Bernie voted in 2008 to formally apologize to Native Americans “for the many instances of violence, maltreatment, and neglect inflicted on Native Peoples by citizens of the U.S.”
- In 2014, Bernie sent a letter with other Senators urging the NFL to rename the Washington D.C. football team.
- As the Chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, Bernie passed the most comprehensive veterans’ health care legislation in modern history – improving care for Native Americans who serve in our military at the highest rate of any ethnic group in the United States.
- Bernie included a provision in the Affordable Care Act that doubled funding for community health centers across the country, including many health centers in Indian Country.
- Bernie championed the Older Americans Act, which provides funding for home-delivered and congregate meal programs, transportation, disease prevention, and caregiving services to more than 250 tribal organizations.
- Bernie has led the fight against the Keystone XL Pipeline since Day One. He is also the only presidential candidate to publicly oppose the tar sands oil Alberta Clipper pipeline in Minnesota, the fracked oil Sandpiper line in Minnesota, the fracked oil Bakken pipeline in Iowa, and the aggressive use of eminent domain for corporate gain in Nebraska for Keystone.
- Bernie’s proposed Climate Justice Resiliency Fund, which is paid for by a tax on carbon, would make climate adaptation investments in low-income and minority communities, including tribes, to help build resilience to the extreme impacts of climate change.
- Bernie’s Low Income Solar Act of 2015 would invest $200 million in loans and grants to offset the upfront costs for solar on community facilities, public housing, and low-income family homes including Native Hawaiian, Alaska Native, and federally recognized tribes.
- Bernie has committed to provide universal early childhood education programs and tuition-free college for all students willing to work hard to get a higher education.
Bernie Will Fight to Strengthen Tribal Nations by:
- Supporting Tribal Sovereignty and Tribal Jurisdiction: Tribes must have the ability to prosecute non-Native people who commit crimes on tribal land, and have greater jurisdiction over prosecuting all crimes, including family disputes. Bernie will fight to provide Tribes with the resources for effective law enforcement and tribal courts. He will work to streamline tribal retrocession from P.L. 280 for those tribes that wish to do so, and will encourage the continual development of the U.S. Department of Justice Tribal Access Program for National Crime Information to provide tribes with access to national crime information systems for both civil and criminal purposes.
- Upholding the Trust Responsibility: We must honor the treaties and federal statutes that are the foundation of the trust relationship. There must be a White House Policy Advisor for Native American Affairs to ensure that tribal issues are consistently addressed and coordinated throughout the federal government. Bernie also supports a position within the Office of Management Budget to ensure adequate subject matter expertise and sufficient coordination between federal agencies. Bernie is committed to the principles of trust modernization to update antiquated trust practices to better serve tribal nations.
- Improving Housing: Bernie will fight for increased local control over the administration and operation of tribal housing programs. He will also fight for full funding of the Indian Housing Block Grant Program.
- Strengthening Education: In order to create economic opportunities, we must invest in education from early childhood through higher education. Bernie will fight to fully fund the Bureau of Indian Education and strengthen self-determination to enable culturally tailored learning, unique to each tribal nation, and help to retain qualified teachers for Native youth. Bernie will build upon the “all of government,” integrated work of the Generation Indigenous initiative to ensure that every Native American child can reach their full potential. Moreover, Bernie’s College for All plan allows students to refinance federal debt, lower interest rates, triples federal work-study jobs, and provides for free college tuition at all public colleges and universities.
- Improving Health Care: Bernie believes that healthcare is a right, and he supports a Medicare-for-all system that would complement the healthcare provided by the Indian Health Service. Critically, Bernie will work to fully fund the Indian Health Service, strengthen regional management and recruitment of committed IHS health care personnel, direct his administration to audit IHS operations, and ensure that Native Americans have adequate, safe, and affordable access to primary care providers, including oral health and mental health practitioners and substance abuse treatment options.
- Restoring Tribal Lands: All tribes must have the right to protect and restore their lands. Bernie will fight to streamline the land-into-trust process and work to reverse the Carcieri Supreme Court decision that resulted in an unjust two-tier system of tribes.
- Advancing Economic Development: Bernie will advocate for economic development in Indian Country by investing in infrastructure. His Rebuild America Act would make a historic $1 trillion investment to upgrade our roads and bridges, drinking water and waste water, freight and passenger rail, and electric, telecommunications and broadband networks, and more. This effort will create and maintain at least 13 million jobs across the country – and will be targeted to areas of highest unemployment, like Indian Country. The investment would go a long way to addressing the “digital divide,” because lack of internet access means Native American communities are at risk of falling even further behind in their ability to access employment, educational, and other opportunities made available by modern information technology. Lastly, all federal grants open to state and local governments will also be open to tribes.
- Protecting Sacred Places and Native American Cultures: Native Americans must be empowered to maintain and pass on traditional religious beliefs, languages and social practices without fear of discrimination or suppression. Native children are the future of tribal nations; the Indian Child Welfare Act is critical to survival and must be enforced with the original intent of the law. Further, tribal cultures, sacred places, religious practices, and landscapes must be federally protected.
- Expanding Consultation: Consultation must mean more than mere listening sessions. Moreover, all voices — tribal leadership and grassroots alike — must be heard. We must expand the annual White House Tribal Nations Conference that brings tribal leaders, cabinet members and the White House together to find solutions to common problems.
- Promoting Voting Rights: Bernie will stand with Native Americans to fight for Indian voting rights, just as he will defend the franchise in minority communities across the country.
- Fighting Racism: Bernie will be an ally in ending the scourge of bias and discrimination against Native peoples. A good place to start is by eliminating offensive school and sports mascots that reflect outdated stereotypes and perpetuate racism against Native Americans.
- Fighting Climate Change and Promoting Environmental Protection: Bernie’s climate change plan will transition away from fossil fuels to a 100 percent clean energy system. Bernie believes that we must provide a just transition for workers, so his plan includes $41 billion to provide benefits and training for oil, gas and coal workers as they transition in to clean energy jobs. We must convene a climate summit with the world’s best engineers, climate scientists, policy experts, activists and indigenous communities to chart the best strategy against climate change. Bernie’s climate plan calls for an end to fracking for natural gas and mountaintop removal coal mining. Bernie will fight for other critical environmental laws and policies like the Clean Water Rule.
“It is no secret that Washington faces a serious debt problem, but last time I checked, it was not because we are spending too much on Indian housing, healthcare or education. It is not because we are spending too much on addressing the scourge of diabetes in Native communities, improving crumbling infrastructure or creating jobs in Indian Country. It is not because we are spending too much supporting Native American veterans who put their lives on the line to defend our nation, or creating economic opportunities for Indian youth. It is profoundly hypocritical that the United States, year-after-year, decade-after-decade, does so little to honor its trust responsibilities to Native peoples. It’s time for real change.” – Bernie Sanders