Bernie Sanders Is the Only Presidential Candidate With a Plan to Empower Native Americans

Source: AP
Source: AP

Bernie Sanders' presidential hopes look all but dashed heading into the "Western Tuesday" primary elections. His opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, holds a near-insurmountable 760-delegate lead over the Vermont senator, and looks to widen the gap with wins in Arizona, Utah and Idaho, on Tuesday.

But as the remaining candidates ride west this week, it's worth noting their respective plans to address the challenges facing Native Americans — a segment of the population with strong representation in all three states. Turns out, there's not much to see: The only candidate with an articulated plan for America's indigenous peoples is Sanders. 

"Native Americans are the first Americans, yet they have for far too long been treated as third class citizens," Sanders' campaign page reads. "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."

Bernie Sanders greets supporters in Flagstaff, Arizona.
Source: 
Ricardo Arduengo/AP

Here are excerpts from some of the plans he outlines:

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 ...

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 ...

Fighting Climate Change and Promoting Environmental Protection: ... In the first 100 days as president, Bernie will 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.

Five candidates remain in the race for president today: Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, businessman Donald Trump, Clinton and Sanders. Of those five, only two — Clinton and Sanders — have anything resembling a plan to address racial inequality in the U.S.

But while Clinton's plan deals mostly with issues foregrounded by the movement for black lives, including securing voting rights and ending the era of mass incarceration, she only mentions Native Americans in the context of these broader racial justice concerns. Sanders, meanwhile, has an entire section on his "Issues" page dedicated to "Empowering Tribal Nations." 

Sanders greets supporters in Flagstaff, Arizona.
Source: 
Ricardo Arduengo/AP

From a numerical standpoint: Indigenous people are not a huge portion of America's voting public. Native Americans and Alaska Natives make up just 1.2% of the population, the smallest portion of any group counted by the U.S. Census, barring Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders.

But the long and brutal history of anti-Native violence in the U.S. — along with that they are, in fact, the original Americans — makes whatever happens to them a de facto referendum on the state of the union. And right now, they face a staggering number of disparities, especially pertaining to health

Aside from facing poverty, gendered violence and police violence victimization rates much higher than the general population, Native people are also among the most at-risk for diabetes, alcoholism, infant mortality and suicide, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health

Sanders speaks to supporters in Flagstaff, Arizona.
Source: 
Ricardo Arduengo/AP

But despite Native Americans' small population size, Sanders has dedicated a deliberate chunk of his time speaking to tribal concerns. He has visited Navajo Territories in Arizona, spent time with tribal leaders in Kansas and even co-sponsored a bill — the Save Oak Flat Act — designed to stop the transfer of sacred Native lands in Arizona's Tonto National Forest to foreign corporations, who plan to turn it into a copper mine.

As Sanders' presidential aspirations grow further and further out of reach, it remains remarkable that he's the only candidate to have specifically addressed Native concerns. That ignoring indigenous issues is a viable route for any presidential candidate speaks to how marginalized Native communities really are, and how far the U.S. has to go toward a truly equitable future.

h/t Indian Country Today Media Network

How likely are you to make Mic your go-to news source?

Zak Cheney Rice

Zak is a Senior Staff Writer at Mic.

MORE FROM

Dow Jones won’t talk about its reported pay gap problem

A study released by the union representing Dow Jones employees found evidence of a "significant pay gap between men and women" who had the same job title and level of experience.

Mom slams ACA repeal, shows what's at stake in a tweetstorm about son's health

This mom says that without the ACA, her son wouldn't get the medical care he desperately needs.

Theresa May announces pact with Northern Ireland's conservative DUP

10 of the DUP's MPs will vote alongside May's party in exchange for more than $1 billion of funds.

Supreme Court will hear case of baker who refused service to gay couples on religious grounds

The Supreme Court will take on the case of a bakery owner who refused to bake a cake for a gay couple.

'Hot Mic' podcast: Health care opposition, Trump on Russian meddling & Pakistan tanker explosion

The important stories to get you caught up for Monday morning.

Dozens missing after tourist boat carrying more than 160 passengers sinks in Colombia

At least six people are confirmed dead and dozens more unaccounted for.

Dow Jones won’t talk about its reported pay gap problem

A study released by the union representing Dow Jones employees found evidence of a "significant pay gap between men and women" who had the same job title and level of experience.

Mom slams ACA repeal, shows what's at stake in a tweetstorm about son's health

This mom says that without the ACA, her son wouldn't get the medical care he desperately needs.

Theresa May announces pact with Northern Ireland's conservative DUP

10 of the DUP's MPs will vote alongside May's party in exchange for more than $1 billion of funds.

Supreme Court will hear case of baker who refused service to gay couples on religious grounds

The Supreme Court will take on the case of a bakery owner who refused to bake a cake for a gay couple.

'Hot Mic' podcast: Health care opposition, Trump on Russian meddling & Pakistan tanker explosion

The important stories to get you caught up for Monday morning.

Dozens missing after tourist boat carrying more than 160 passengers sinks in Colombia

At least six people are confirmed dead and dozens more unaccounted for.