Sen. Kamala Harris, D-California, was one of two candidates on day two who tuned in live-stream with attendees at the Frank LaMere Native American Presidential Forum in Sioux City, Iowa. Three of the 11 candidates were on screen.
OJ Semans, executive director of Four Directions, introduced Sen. Harris. He said she is “a candidate that has actually worked at what is destroying Indian Country.”
Harris looked at case studies to figure out why and how of sex trafficking in women and girls, Semans said.
“Having someone that has the knowledge behind that and being able to work and whether it’s a president, which everyone is hoping for, or whether it’s as a United State senator. Either way it’s a win-win for Indian Country,” he said. “We need to learn from what they have been able to accomplish.”
The presidential candidate received two endorsements from tribal leaders the day after the forum from the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians Chairman Mark Macarro and Chairman Kenneth Kahn of the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians. Both tribes are located in California.
He said that Harris is a candidate who worked with California tribes and can uphold the government-to-government relationship.
“I know that under a Harris administration, Indian Country will again be valued,” Macarro said. “Senator Harris has engaged California’s tribes in many roles, and her door was always open to us on a wide range of issues. We need a president that respects Native traditions and values -- one who gets tribal sovereignty, recognizes our history, and will look forward with us. Kamala Harris is that leader and will be that president.”
When Harris ran for Senate California in 2016, Pechanga didn’t give money to her campaign but supported other presidential candidates and political groups, according to the Los Angeles Times. Macarro was tribal chairman at that time, too.
Chairman Kahn has experience working with her and knows she can get the job done for Native communities.
“I have had the honor and pleasure of working with Kamala as DA, Attorney General, and as our home-state Senator. In each role, she has showed a willingness to dig into the meat of the issues and roll up her sleeves to get things done,” he said in a statement. “Indian Country needs more of that tenacity.”
Harris opened the floor with how she has “unequivocal support that I have of the sovereignty of Native tribes and that this is a life-long commitment.” She grew up knowing about the violence and oppression Native people go through “at the hands of the American government.”
“There is work we need to do and continue to do about not only restoring tribal land but also acknowledging historical trauma that has resulted of those many years of violence and frankly crimes that were committed,” Harris said. “These were crimes that ranged from murder and rape to theft in profound proportions.”
Within the first five minutes, the Sen. Harris seemed to say the things tribal leaders, youth, and community members wanted to hear about the Remove the Stain Act and climate change.
The senator supported her statement when she said she supports the Remove the Stain Act because the wrongs that happened in Native communities needs to be addressed.
As far as climate change, Harris “will look to [Indian Country] for leadership” because Native people understand how to preserve it “better than most.” The audience applauded.
When it comes to ensuring protection for water rights in California, Sen. Harris said it will be her policy to have tribal consultation with cabinet officials who are working on climate change. These officials will not only receive the input but will listen in terms of impact. She wants to think about the long term too.
She understands that the “federal laws that impact the tribes are very complicated.”
The real conflict came when tribal citizens from California tribes asked her about why she denied fee-to-trust applications from California tribes during her time as the 32nd Attorney General of California from 2011 to 2017. The applications asked to bring tribal lands back into trust for the tribes.
“When I was attorney general I had a number of responsibilities including being lawyer for the governor, and it was in that capacity when the governor, when I was the lawyer for the governor and the governor made decisions about the fee-to-trust applications by California tribes,” she said. “As the lawyer, as the law officer for the governor we had to file those letters but that was never a reflection and has never been a reflection of my personal perspective, and when I have had the ability to independently act, not on behalf of a client, I think my history and my positions are very clear.”
Harris believes in the restoration of tribal land and putting land into trust is “essential to tribal self-determination” for economic and political growth, and tribal sovereignty.
The crowd applauded.
Near the end of her live-stream, Harris said she sees the Indian Child Welfare Act as a civil rights issue. To enforce it and make sure judges understand it, she wants to appoint members to the bench who are familiar with ICWA so that when the case goes to the courtroom happens, “justice happens.”
As a follow-up question, Indian Country Today Editor Mark Trahant, who was the forum moderator, asked, “There are roughly 3,600 roughly Article III federal judges and one of them is a Native American. What can we do to get better representation in the federal judiciary?”
“We need a new president,” she replied with an applause, laughter and shouts in the theatre. “And a president who understands this.”
Bill de Blasio, the 109th Mayor of New York City, received some support from the room. He admitted a few times that he wants to learn more about tribal governments.
He was on the fence when it came to protecting water and moving away from fossil fuels.
De Blasio told the crowd that he believes in respecting people who work in the fossil fuel industry while also coming up with a “new vision” for renewable energy. The crowd finally agreed with him when he said, “We have to get away from fossil fuels.”
He agrees that global warming needs to be addressed “urgently.”
A couple points the audience liked were the mayor’s stance on Leonard Peltier and mascots.
The mayor said he would do everything he can to help seek the clemency of Peltier.
As for banning mascots, he said they are “morally wrong,” “divisive,” and “racist.” He’s seen teams put up arguments and seen teams move places and change their name without a problem.
Before ending the live-stream, Trahant did an unofficial poll of the crowd. Hands went up when he asked who in the room of approximately 150 people disliked the Washington Team. “Boos” rung in the air and a thumb or two popped up in the front row.
Both candidates didn’t take questions from Indian Country Today after they live-streamed.