GOP platform includes Native-specific language and goals

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WASHINGTON – Delegates and leaders of the Republican National Convention have approved a national party platform for the next four years that includes several Indian-focused provisions.

Under a section in the 67-page document titled, “Supporting Native American Communities,” the platform states that the “federal government has a special responsibility to the people in Indian country and a unique trust relationship with them, which has been insufficiently honored.

“The social and economic problems that plague Indian country have grown worse over the last several decades, and we must reverse that trend. Ineffective government programs deprive Indians of the services they need, and longterm failures threaten to undermine tribal sovereignty itself.”

The platform, which amounts to a GOP roadmap of principles and goals for the next four years, says that Republicans believe that economic self-sufficiency is the ultimate answer to the challenges in Indian country and that tribal communities, not Washington bureaucracies, are better situated to craft local solutions.

“Federal – and state – regulations that thwart job creation must be reconsidered so that tribal governments acting on Native Americans’ behalf are not disadvantaged.”

The document states that the “Democratic Party’s repeated undermining of tribal sovereignty to advantage union bosses is especially egregious.”

“Republicans reject a one-size-fits-all approach to federal-state-tribal partnerships and will work to expand local autonomy where tribal governments seek it,” according to the platform. “Better partnerships will help us to expand opportunity, deliver top-flight education to future generations, modernize and improve the Indian Health Service to make it more responsive to local needs, and build essential infrastructure.”

The document supports empowerment among Native Americans to encourage their ability “to develop the rich natural resources on their lands without undue federal interference.”

Calling crime in Indian country “a special problem demanding immediate attention,” especially against women, the platform states that “undefinednadequate resources and neglect have made Native Americans less safe and allowed safe havens to develop in Indian country for criminal narcotics enterprises.

“The government must increase funding for tribal officers and investigators, FBI agents, prosecutors, and tribal jails. The legal system must provide stability and protect property rights. Everyone’s civil rights must be safeguarded, including the right to due process and freedom of the press, with accountability for all government officials.”

The platform, too, includes language backing equal participation in federal programs by American Indians, Native Hawaiians and Alaska Natives. At the same time, it notes the importance of preserving native cultures and languages.

Finally, the platform recognizes historic and contemporary military service of American Indians, stating, “We honor the sacrifices of all Native Americans serving in the military today and in years past and will ensure that all veterans receive the care and respect they have earned through their service to America.”

Democrats, at their recent convention in Denver, reaffirmed the importance of tribal sovereignty and stated that the “Democratic Party will honor the nation’s treaty and trust obligations by increasing resources for economic development, health care, Indian education and other services.”

The Democratic platform contained several notations of tribal issues throughout, such as recognizing a need to reduce disparities in health care for Natives in a culturally-sensitive manner. It also promised federal consultation with tribes on homeland security issues.

One stark contrast between the RNC and DNC platforms is that the Republican document does not include language promising to create a position for a White House advisor on Indian affairs, nor does it propose to hold annual summits between top federal political leaders and tribal leaders.

Democrats, including presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama, have said the liaison position and better outreach are among their top goals in addressing the needs of Indian country.

Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain has made a similar pledge, but his promise did not make it into the official RNC platform.