DENVER – The official Democratic Platform is more Native-specific than any other party platform in history.
The document serves as a guide map of principles and efforts the Democratic Party aims to achieve over the next four years.
“In my opinion, [this year’s platform] not only dramatically improves on the quantity of tribal issues covered, but also the quality of the language that is in there,” said Mark Macarro, chairman of the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians during a meeting of the Democratic National Convention’s Native American caucus Aug. 27.
Macarro serves on the Democratic Platform Committee, which is responsible for drafting and recommending the proposed national platform for approval at the convention.
Oklahoma state Rep. Chuck Hoskin, a Cherokee member of the committee, along with Ron His Horse Is Thunder, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe of North Dakota, also played key roles in overseeing the platform language pertaining to Indians.
Perhaps most significantly, the platform states that Democrats promise to create a position for a White House advisor on Indian affairs. They also propose to hold annual summits between top federal political leaders and tribal leaders.
Page 50 of the 51-page platform focuses specifically on tribal sovereignty. It states that “American Indian and Alaska Native tribes have always been sovereign, self-governing communities, and we affirm their inherent rights to self-governance, as well as the unique government-to-government relationship that they share with the United States.”
The document goes on to say 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. It also places importance on seeking American Indian cultural advice and reducing violent crime in Indian country.
In addition to the specific statements involving tribal sovereignty, the platform contains other notations of tribal issues throughout, such as recognizing a need to reduce disparities in health care for Natives in a culturally-sensitive manner. It specifically states a goal of speeding up and improving funding for the IHS.
The document also promises federal consultation with tribes on homeland security issues.
After being read aloud by Maccaro, the platform received a resounding applause from a packed room of engaged Native Democrats.
Anton Minthorne, chairman of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indians, said it was the most impressive platform he’s seen in the seven Democratic conventions he’s attended over his lifetime.
Minthorne also speculated that if the Democratic Party wins the presidential election, Natives will be able to say, “The plank is in our platform. We elected you. Now, you need to listen to us.”
Some Natives at the caucus meeting asked why language about specific issues, like tribal energy development, was not included in the document.
In response to such questions, Macarro described the language as a “stride forward” over previous DNC platforms, but noted, too, that “no document can be all things to all people.” He added that the platform provides a strong basis to build upon in coming years.