Screen capture from UpTakeVideo/YouTube
Clyde Bellecourt addressing Sen. Bernie Sanders with his question.

‘Are You Going to Honor the Treaties?’ Clyde Bellecourt Asks Bernie Sanders

Jacqueline Keeler

On Thursday, Clyde Bellecourt, founder of the American Indian Movement and elder statesman in the Twin Cities civil rights community, was the last audience member to be given the mic to question Bernie Sanders at the Black America Forum in Minneapolis. Despite repeated interruptions by the moderator to keep his question short, Bellecourt, a 79-year-old Anishinaabe elder, blasted Sanders and other presidential candidates for not saying “a single word about Native people.”

Bellecourt introduced himself both by his name in his language and his “colonial name” and reminded Sanders and those gathered of the long struggle of Native Americans to be heard on the national stage. He described his own role and AIM’s in leading Native American people to Wounded Knee in 1973 in an armed takeover of an Oglala Lakota village on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota, site of the infamous 1890 massacre of Lakota men, women and children.

The moderator, Anthony Newby, chided Bellecourt, reminding him that the organizers had opened the event by recognizing they are on Indian land. Newby also told the elder that Native American issues were not being brought up at this forum because it is a Black forum, to which Bellecourt responded forcefully, “This is a people of color forum!”

As Sanders was standing to leave for another meeting he was late for, Bellecourt asked him if he would honor the treaties between the federal government and the Native American community to which Sanders responded: "I will do everything I can to redress that.”

The entire exchange can be seen on Youtube and is being widely shared via social media in the Native American community.

Just a week ago, Sanders’ campaign was riding high with Native American voters, having just announced the creation of a new Native American Policy committee to advise the candidate, and won a landslide victory on the Meskwaki Indian Settlement. Clinton won only 16.7 percent of the vote in that district.

RELATED: Sanders Announces Initiatives At Affiliated NW Tribes

Native supporters for Bernie were quick to counter Bellecourt’s accusation of not mentioning Native people by pointing out that in his New Hampshire primary victory speech Sanders did mention Native Americans, saying, “It is a political revolution that will bring tens of millions of our people together...It will bring together blacks, and whites, latinos, Asian-Americans, Native Americans, straight and gay, male and female.”

Indian Country Today contacted the Bernie Sanders campaign for a response to the video. However, in an interview with Nicole Willis, the campaign’s Native American consultant, she stressed that Sanders is notable for his work as the co-sponsor of the 2013 Violence Against Women Act, which featured an unprecedented increase in sovereign jurisdiction of tribes over non-Indians. The act allows for tribal prosecution in tribal courts of non-Indians accused of domestic violence on reservation land. This constitutes the largest increase in tribal jurisdiction since the Oliphant vs. Suquamish Tribe Supreme Court ruling in 1978 that determined tribal courts do not have authority to try and punish non-Indians unless specifically authorized to do so by Congress.

"Oliphant's impact on the development of federal Indian law and life on the ground in Indian country has been nothing short of revolutionary,” writes legal scholar and professor Dr. Bruce Duthu in his book American Indians and the Law. “The opinion gutted the notion of full territorial sovereignty as it applies to Indian tribes."

The Oliphant decision has led to a gap in jurisdiction is reported well known and exploited by offenders who know they will most likely not be prosecuted. The fallout was outlined in a 2010 Department of Justice report that found Native women had 2 and one-half times the rate of rape and murder of other American women. It has also been reported that the FBI which has jurisdiction in such cases declined to prosecute in over 70 percent of reported cases. This expansion of tribal jurisdiction was bitterly fought by Republicans.

Sanders has also co-sponsored the Save Oak Flat Act to repeal the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange Act that authorized the transfer Oak Flat, land sacred to the Apaches and other tribes in the Tonto National Forest to a foreign mining company. He has also remained outspoken against the Keystone XL pipeline in contrast to his opponent, Hillary Clinton, who was initially “inclined” to approve the pipeline and hired a major Keystone lobbyist as a consultant for her campaign.

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Scott Boan
Submitted by Scott Boan on
I hate to see Bernie not have an answer ready for every situation, just like he didn't when Black Lives Matter took over his podium early in the campaign. Getting blind-sided like that isn't easy for everyone, especially when there are TIME constraints. That being said, I TRUST that Bernie Sanders will - as he said - "redress" these issues of Native Americans. He also plainly stated that he agreed that you have been treated badly. He got a stuttering start with the BLM movement, but his history and course correction have come a long way. WE have a LOT OF WORK TO DO, and I believe your issues, as well as those of all repressed and oppressed people will be at the top of his priority list with the OTHER staggering issues that face this country. I'll do what I can (not much except "Like" on FB and retweet your tweets), to make sure that this is not swept under the rug. I hope you will soon find the trust that I have in this man, his record, his experience and his intentions !

Blair Gilbert's picture
Blair Gilbert
Submitted by Blair Gilbert on
Apparently I'm missing something as it relates to the part of the 2013 Violence Against Women Act. It appears that Sanders' representative, Nicole Willis, is indicating that act gives tribal courts jurisdiction on sovereign lands. And if that's so, why is the Dollar General Corporation v. Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians suit even being considered. Again, maybe I'm not understanding the entire point Ms. Wills is making, but I think I am.

Old Lady's picture
Old Lady
Submitted by Old Lady on
The question of honoring the treaties is LONG overdue - like several centuries. We have to do what's right, not just what's convenient. I wish more people would speak up like this.

Jacqueline Keeler
Submitted by Jacqueline Keeler on
Blair Gilbert: the expansion of jurisdiction under VAWA is for DV-related cases only, but it does represent the first expansion in jurisdiction over non-Indians that has occurred in the nearly 40 years since the Oliphant decision. Bernie Sanders' has committed to further increasing jurisdiction beyond DV cases in the next reauthorization of VAWA.