The Year in Politics


Over the past year, one of the most story-lines in Indian country was the push for stronger government-to-government relations as well as improved living conditions throughout Turtle Island.

Among this year’s biggest headlines was President Barack Obama’s visit to a reservation, a Native woman making judicial history by getting benched, a messy presidential election in the Navajo nation and Keith Harper being named Obama’s human rights ambassador.

Here is a short recap of the biggest political stories this year:

Welcome to Standing Rock

During the 2008 presidential election, then-Senator Barack Obama made a campaign stop to visit with the Crow Nation in Montana.

His second visit to Indian Country may have been delayed a bit too long for the taste of some, but two years into his second term, he returned to connect again directly with Native people. Prior to his trip to Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota, President Obama shared his thoughts on the visit in a column for Indian Country Today Media Network. “We’re writing a new chapter in our history—one in which agreements are upheld, tribal sovereignty is respected, and every American Indian and Alaskan Native who works hard has the chance to get ahead,” he wrote.

RELATED: On My Upcoming Trip to Indian Country

While in North Dakota, the president met with tribal youth, who shared their stories of struggle with poverty, addiction, suicide, violence and more. President Obama acknowledged there was a “crisis” in Indian education and introduced his plan to improve tribal education. The President’s focus on Native youth and Indian education did not end with that visit, as more initiatives were rolled out on December 3 at the 2014 White House Tribal Nations Conference.

RELATED: President Obama Follows Visit With Strong Action Plan for Indian Country

The WCIP Controversy

The World Conference on Indigenous Peoples (WCIP) was spurring debate long before it was convened in New York in September.

Controversy about the WCIP swirled during the 13th Session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in May, where indigenous organizations voiced concern that state actions would sideline the issues of Indigenous Peoples at the WCIP. These concerns stemmed from news last winter that the President of the General Assembly had decided Indigenous Peoples would not have full and equal participation at WCIP on par with states.

When the WCIP was over, the biggest news out of it was the conference’s Outcome Document. The OD, prepared in advance of the WCIP and approved in New York, had input from Indigenous Peoples during the preparation stages, but was finalized without any indigenous consultation. The crux of the OD reaffirms the commitment of states to the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and promises consultation and cooperation with Indigenous Peoples. A bit ironic that, considering the final document was put together without that consultation – a point that was made by many in Indian country.

RELATED: World Conference Outcome Document: States Win

Glenn Morris, a tenured professor of political science at the University of Colorado at Denver, felt the OD did more harm than good. Morris felt the “so-called” OD now completely excludes four essential principles for indigenous rights: Self-Determination; the international personality of indigenous nations and international character of treaties between indigenous nations and invader states; the right of Indigenous Peoples to control their territories, natural resources and traditional knowledge; and Dismantling the Doctrine of Christian Discovery. Morris asked, “How can states make the pretense of honestly implementing the spirit of the UNDRIP while ignoring these four essential areas?”

Harper Gets an International Voice

He became the first citizen of a federally recognized tribe to become an U.S. ambassador on June 3 when the Senate confirmed his appointment. Harper, widely known in Indian country for being part of the team of lawyers who represented the lead plaintiff in the Cobell trust litigation and settlement. “The President’s nomination and Senate confirmation of Keith Harper as Ambassador means that we will have someone representing the United States who can fight for our tribal treaty rights and our human rights at the international level,” former Mandan, Hidatsa & Arikara Nation tribal chairman Tex Hall said at the time.

RELATED: Keith Harper, Cherokee Nation Citizen, Confirmed as Ambassador

The National Congress of American Indians released a letter of support for Harper prior to his confirmation, in which they call Harper a role model and an ideal candidate for the job.


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