AP Photo/Matt Slocum
The final preparations on Friday ahead of the kick off of the Democratic National Convention this morning.

Tribal Nations Turn Out in Record Numbers at DNC

Suzette Brewer

Tribal leaders, delegates and candidates from all over the country turned up in record-breaking numbers at this year's Democratic National Convention, which kicks off today in Philadelphia. Underscoring its commitment to uphold the government's treaty obligations with America's 567 federally recognized Indian tribes, the DNC has dedicated a lengthy plank in its platform to the most pressing issues confronting Indian communities in the 21st century.

As pre-convention events got under way over the weekend, controversy around leaked DNC emails continued to embroil the party in chaos after it was revealed that DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz appeared to favor Hillary Clinton during the primary season. After repeated calls for her resignation Wasserman Schultz stepped down on Sunday,

In spite of the contentious events involving the party's leadership, tribal members attended delegate meetings, political fundraisers, and social and community service events throughout the weekend. Many also met with candidates and representatives of other tribes to begin preparing for what is expected to be an intense week leading up to the nomination of Hillary Clinton as the party's candidate.

With an estimated 100 Native candidates running for office nationwide, dozens of Native delegates in attendance at the DNC and several running for Congress, 2016 is shaping up to be a historic year for Indian people at the ballot box.

Bryan Mercier is an Oregon State delegate and also a member of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde. He says that the increase in Native delegates from across the American West has reached an important threshold in the electoral participation of Indian people, who still struggle to make their voices heard, as states continue to implement voter suppression tactics including ballot denial and strict voter ID laws in districts across the United States.

Even so, more Indian people are attending local caucus meetings and filing for candidacy, said Mercier, indicating a shift in the attitudes of an often disenfranchised group of cynical voters.

“I was here four years ago when it was the most inclusive it had ever been,” Mercier told ICTMN. “Now there's even more Native people here and the sheer number of delegates from Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Washington State, North Dakota alone are impressive and an important signal that we intend to stand up for our rights as partners and collaborators in Congress.”

This year's DNC platform includes an unprecedented number of issues important to tribal nations and Native voters, including promises to support and strengthen housing, healthcare, education, tribal jurisdiction, the Violence Against Women Act and the Indian Child Welfare Act, among others. Tribal leaders say that it is a continuation of the substantial work that was begun under the Obama administration, which they say has been more actively involved in Indian Affairs than any president in U.S. History.

“The platform touches on a lot of things that are important to us—and it's clear that there are Native people within the party who are writing that for the party,” Mercier said. “It moves away from the paternalistic policies and toward more of a partnership, a government-to-government relationship that involves shared responsibility.”

Chase Iron Eyes is a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and a candidate for the At-Large Congressional District of North Dakota. Iron Eyes, who is an attorney and Indian rights activist, said that the most critical issue in this year's election is encouraging voter participation among Indian people.

“Tribal nations need to stand up in the election process by endorsing, running and supporting Native candidates,” Iron Eyes said. “Before last year, I had never even been to a caucus meeting, but as Donald Trump went from entertainment value to a serious contender, I decided it was time to act. So I started going to rallies and getting involved because the RNC has been taken over by fear.”

Iron Eyes said that Indian voters comprise nearly 50 percent of the potential electorate in North Dakota—which presents a powerful swing vote in a state which is currently in litigation over voter ID laws that have disenfranchised Indian voters.

“The Republicans know we're a powerful voting block, so they're always creating new ways to enforce voter suppression,” he said. “But I truly believe in our democracy, so I say, 'Face the Storm.' Get out and vote. Be the voice for the whole world.”

The Native American Council was scheduled at 10 a.m. today as the DNC begins its convention. Bernie Sanders and Michelle Obama are scheduled to speak tonight.

For a full schedule of events or to watch live coverage, please go here.

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