Suzette Brewer
Native youth were in attendance for the DNC showing their support for Sen. Bernie Sanders. They were disappointed when he called for Hillary Clinton to be nominated by acclamation.

Tribal Nations React to First Woman Presidential Nominee

Suzette Brewer

After a contentious Democratic primary between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, last night’s roll call vote at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia ended when Sanders appeared on the podium and asked to suspend DNC procedural rules and nominate Clinton by acclamation. The motion carried by an overwhelming voice vote, securing a historic nomination for the first female presidential candidate in U.S. history.

Sanders delegates, who have been protesting throughout the week, walked out of the convention and staged a sit-in in the media tent in as a “peaceful, non-violent” way to show their anger over the party’s “unfair and rigged” nomination process.

It was a fight that had also spilled over into Indian country, as tribal nations and their individual members had sided with their candidate of choice. But by the time the roll call vote had ended and Clinton became the nominee, many Native people in attendance at the Wells Fargo Arena were already turning their attention to the general election season.

“We now have to focus on November and the rest of the slate in regards to the House and Senate and the many issues that face our communities across the country,” said Leonard Forsman, chairman of the Suquamish Tribe on the Port Madison Indian Reservation in Washington state. “You need leadership and inspiration and it is my hope that those who were inspired by Bernie Sanders will help us.”

Forsman said the major issues for tribal nations in this year’s election include the federal budget and the appointment of a new Supreme Court justice, which now has only eight seated justices after the death of Antonin Scalia earlier this year.

“Look, we have natural resources, IHS, housing issues, employment, jurisdiction which is the hard, gritty work that will have a measured effort over time,” said Forsman. “It’s not sexy, but that’s how legislation and policymaking get done.”

Lisa Blackhorse is a Tlingit tribal member and Clinton supporter from Arizona who is in Philadelphia to support the Democratic party. Having been involved for years in state and local politics, she said the most significant outcome of this year’s election for Native people is getting out the vote.

“Native Americans have only been citizens of this country since 1924, and we weren’t allowed to vote in Arizona until 1948,” said Blackhorse. “The system wasn’t built with a diverse population in mind, so we have to get involved at every level―from the school boards to the city council to the legislatures, Congress and beyond.”

Blackhorse said that in spite of the split in Indian country between Clinton and Sanders supporters, she hopes that now that the nomination process has been concluded that people will support the Democratic ticket.

In an election year that has seen an unprecedented amount of engagement among Indian people, many Native youth supported Bernie Sanders. As the roll call vote ended with Sanders’s move to nominate Clinton by acclamation, a group of young Native people who have been actively involved in Up to Us, a grassroots organization dedicated to “reclaiming our democracy,” gathered in the hallway of the arena.

Joey Montoya (Lipan Apache) said that young urban Native youth are among the most disenfranchised in the country.

“Right now it’s important to get Native youth involved in the political process,” said Montoya. “Our group started with 30 people and now we have 200 and it’s growing and we’re traveling around the country and meeting with local organizations and groups to listen to their concerns and work with them and carry their message.”

“It’s easy to feel defeated because the system has never worked for us, but I want to say to young Native people to keep going, keep reaching out across our communities,” said Calina Lawrence, a member of the Suquamish Tribe of Washington. “We take our Indian sovereignty seriously and our Native teachings have survived a lot. So we have to start running for office and holding people accountable because our responsibility is to reclaim the world we inherited and remind Indian people of their worth and their connection to their lands. We want to create a space where their voices are valuable and respected.”

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