Sen. Bernie Sanders swept through Washington State on Sunday, meeting with tribal leaders and Native voters and speaking before tens of thousands at rallies in Vancouver, Seattle and Spokane in anticipation of the state Democratic caucus Friday, March 26.
He started in Vancouver, where nearly 7,500 people waited in the rain in long lines circling a local high school. Entrance was granted on a first come, first served basis and crowds began camping out at 4:30 a.m.
Before speaking, Senator Sanders met with local Native American leaders, Roben White (Cheyenne/Lakota) leader of Washington for Bernie Sanders Congressional District 3 and Becky Archibald (Shoshone Bannock) board member of the Clark County Historical Museum. They gifted the candidate with a Pendleton blanket, ledger art, and a necklace for his wife, Jane Sanders.
On back of the ledger art White wrote, “there is a great power in this art and we share it with you to help you regarding your decisions on how to enforce the treaties.”
The art was made by George Curtis Levi (Cheyenne/Lakota) while he was visiting Vancouver, Washington last month for an exhibit “One November Morning” about the Sand Creek massacre that is currently showing at the Clark County Historical Museum. Both White and Levi are descendants of survivors of the 1864 massacre that took place in Colorado Territory and was made infamous by Colonel Chivington’s directive to his soldiers to, “Kill and scalp all, big and little; nits make lice.” Women and children were brutally murdered in the massacre.
White told ICTMN that he was pleased Sanders is talking more and more about Natives and not just stopping at mentioning about other ethnic groups like Blacks and Hispanics and Asians.
Sen. Bernie Sanders at a rally event in Washington state said his “campaign is listening to the Native American communities. Anyone who has read five minutes of American history understands how shamefully and dishonorably we have treated the first Americans.”
Sanders not only included mention of Native Americans but his stump speech included a new paragraph about listening to Native Americans:
“This campaign is listening to the Native American communities. Anyone who has read five minutes of American history understands how shamefully and dishonorably we have treated the first Americans. We owe the first Americans so much. For enriching our culture and teaching us about the environment that we live with nature not against nature. What has gone on for years in terms of lies and cheating and breaking of treaties with the Native American people is not acceptable. Together we are going to change that and treat Native Americans with respect that has long been their due.”
Concerns were also brought up with Sanders about re-recognition of the Chinook tribe and the Cowlitz Tribe’s ongoing lawsuit with local communities over the construction of a casino just north of Vancouver.
The Senator spoke for 45 minutes and then headed to Seattle where an estimated 20-30,000 crowd was waiting for him including a tribal delegation including NCAI President Brian Cladoosby (Swinomish), VAWA champion Deborah Parker (Tulalip) and Yakama leaders including Asa Washines.
Washines told ICTMN that he is still undecided and believes: “Both candidates have great planks towards Native Americans and both would benefit Indian country, and what I saw took place today is unprecedented. The Sanders campaign is pushing Indian country issues to the forefront on the campaign trail. Today when the Senator from Vermont talked about the environment, he said (paraphrasing) we should look to the Native American community for solutions. That's unique, and a lot of Indian country is paying attention.”
Parker posted photos and video of the meeting on social media which included a naming ceremony.
“Native American leaders named Bernie Sanders "dx?shudi?up" (pronounced dooh-s-who-dee-choop),” she wrote on Facebook. “This name is now bestowed upon Bernie Sanders and will be known among the Coast Salish people and beyond. The Lushootseed language meaning is "the one lighting the fires for change and unity." Thanking our Tulalip language teacher Natosha Gobin for helping us with Bernie Sanders lushootseed name.”
At the Spokane rally held Sunday evening, Joe Pakootas, Colville tribal member’s candidacy for Congress got a boost and an endorsement from Bernie as he introduced Sen. Sanders saying, “I know what it is like to be ignored and neglected by my government. I grew up on the Colville Indian reservation where too many of our children suffer from domestic violence, poor schools and lack of opportunity to do better."
Bill Clinton will also be speaking in Vancouver on Monday at a presently undisclosed location and Hillary will be speaking in Seattle on Tuesday. Sanders is headed to Flagstaff to speak before the Arizona primary.
Jacqueline Keeler is a Navajo/Yankton Dakota Sioux writer living in Portland, Oregon and co-founder of Eradicating Offensive Native Mascotry, creators of Not Your Mascot. She has been published in Telesur, Earth Island Journal and the Nation and interviewed on MSNBC and DemocracyNow and Native American Calling. She has a forthcoming book called “Not Your Disappearing Indian” and podcast. On twitter: twitter.com/jfkeeler.