A recurring theme of the Frank LaMere Native American Presidential Forum was language. Indian Country listened as panelists spoke various languages before they asked questions to White House hopefuls.
On Tuesday afternoon, Julián Castro, former Mayor of San Antonio, began his remarks by speaking his own language.
“Gracias,” he said.
Castro’s opening remarks began with expressing gratitude, thanking forum organizers, water protectors and the LaMere family. Castro was the only candidate at the forum to acknowledge the land of the Omaha, Ponca, Dakota and Winnebago, the land near the Orpheum Theater in Sioux City, Iowa.
In his remarks, Castro referred to specific policy plans he has for Indian Country, citing learning a lot from working with tribal nations during his time as U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. In the eight questions he was asked the audience cheered after every one.
His opening statement recapped the policy points in his People First Indigenous Communities Platform, the first platform on Indigenous issues released by a 2020 candidate. He talked about education, healthcare, tribal sovereignty, housing, and missing and murdered Indigenous women.
Castro’s first question came from Marcella LaBeau, Cheyenne River Sioux citizen and 99-year-old veteran of World War II. She asked about his stance on the Remove the Stain Act, which calls to rescind medals given to soldiers who were honored for killing Native people.
“I absolutely do support the Remove the Stain Act,” he said, adding that America has a “shameful history.”
A recurring theme Castro addressed in nearly every question he received was a need to respect tribal sovereignty.
In talking about the Indian Child Welfare Act, he said he would work with tribal leaders to “fix it and strengthen it,” so that Native children can stay with Native families.
On ending homelessness, he cited that nearly half of Native people don’t live on reservations. He said he would work to address this issue with both reservation and urban Natives. One way in particular, is by investing Section 184, a program that makes home loans possible at low interest rates.
Castro also talked about ending homelessness amongst Native veterans, saying he would it take it a step further by coordinating with tribal communities, “so that it is done well.”
On the topic of appointing Native people to various positions in his administration, Castro said he would appoint Native people to various offices ranging from the appellate courts to the Supreme Court. He also said he would set up an Office of Presidential Personnel, if elected.
“I believe that an effective administration needs to look like America,” Castro said.
Another topic Castro repeatedly raised was the need to address the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women. He said he knows that the weight of this issue is “shared by many people.”
He vowed to bring justice to Native women by giving more authority to tribal nations so that they can prosecute criminals. He said he is a supporter of Savanna’s Act.
Castro said he hopes his actions will bring families a better sense of justice but added that justice cannot be fully be found with the lives of the women who have already been lost. He said it is important to understand “that we never fully can [bring justice].”
The 44-year-old candidate also addressed his stance on immigration, saying he would end family separation amongst Indigenous immigrants while investing in resources to find the relatives of migrant child whose parents have been deported.
Aliyah Chavez, Kewa Pueblo, is the Rowland and Pat Journalism Fellow at Indian Country Today and a reporter-producer. Her email is: firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @aliyahjchavez