Democrats Release Pro-Tribal Platform

The Democratic Party has released a pro-tribal platform as part of the ongoing Democratic National Convention, taking place in Charlotte, North Carolina.

The Democratic Party has released a pro-tribal platform as part of the ongoing Democratic National Convention, taking place in Charlotte, North Carolina.

The main American Indian-focused part of the platform centers on supporting tribal sovereignty.

“American Indian and Alaska Native tribes are sovereign self-governing communities, with a unique government-to-government relationship with the United States,” the platform states. “President Obama and Democrats in Congress, working with tribes, have taken unprecedented steps to resolve long-standing conflicts, finally coming to a resolution on litigation—some dating back nearly 100 years—related to management of Indian trust resources, administration of loan programs, and water rights.”

The platform also lists several Obama administration achievements on behalf of Indians: “The President worked with Democrats to pass the HEARTH Act [Helping Expedite and Advance Responsible Tribal Homeownership Act] to promote greater tribal self-determination and create jobs in Indian country. The Affordable Care Act permanently reauthorized the Indian Health Care Improvement Act to improve care for Native Americans. Democrats enacted the Tribal Law and Order Act, support expansion of the Violence Against Women Act to include greater protection for women on tribal lands, and oppose versions of the Violence Against Women Act that do not include these critical provisions.”

It promises: "We will continue to honor our treaty and trust obligations and respect cultural rights, including greater support for American Indian and Alaska Native languages. Democrats support maximizing tribal self-governance, including efforts for self-determination and sovereignty of Native Hawaiians.”

Tribes are mentioned in other parts of the document beyond the tribal sovereignty section, including the small business and education sections, although there is less mention of tribes and Indians throughout the 2012 platform as compared to the 2008 Democratic platform.

Democratic National Committee (DNC) members did not respond to questions on how the Indian-specific portions of the platform were drafted.

Several Indians say the platform is strong and admirable.

“The Democratic platform highlights a list of successes that is unparalleled for any administration—from the settlement of the Cobell litigation to the president's signing of the TLOA (Tribal Law and Order Act) and his unprecedented veto threat over his support of the tribal provisions in the Violence Against Women Act,” said Holly Cook Macarro, a partner with Ietan Consulting, a tribal lobbying firm. “Obamacare meant the permanent reauthorization of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act and the modernization of health care delivery in tribal communities. These accomplishments could not have happened without the help of the many Native Americans the president appointed to real positions of influence within his administration.”

Macarro, a Red Lake Ojibwe citizen who is attending the convention, said Indians are better off than they were four years ago.

Gyasi Ross, a Blackfeet citizen and lawyer with the Crowell Law Office, makes the case that the Indian-focused platform is actually stronger than past ones released by the Democratic Party “because you realize, based upon the past four years, that this president has the moral and political will to do what he says. Previous administrations made promises to tribes but, by and large, those promises did not happen There's no blowing smoke here—the president accomplished a good deal of what he said that he would accomplish back in 2008; he definitely didn't do everything he said that he would, but his shooting percentage is quite a bit higher than any other president in history.”

Ross also said that the platform could be stronger: “There's been no movement on the preserving Native languages front or the sacred sites front. The Keystone Pipeline is still hanging over Native peoples' heads. Our homelands are still impoverished and hurting. It is crucial that these issues arise to the forefront…these items are matter of cultural survival. Still, in the same breath that we point out the shortcomings, we have to acknowledge that this president has been the most progressive for Native people ever and celebrate the victories.”

The Republicans released their own American Indian platform last week, and it has been viewed favorably by some Natives, but many, like Ross, believe that actions speak louder than words: “A platform is important, of course—yet, the political and moral will to see that platform through is much more important,” he said.