Democrats to kick off their online, virtual political convention with land acknowledgement

Balloons drop on participants of the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. (Photo by David Bean)

Aliyah Chavez

Updated: Native delegates and committee members attending the virtual event will represent a wide-range of Indian Country, coming from states including Arizona, Minnesota, South Dakota and Washington

Aliyah Chavez
Indian Country Today

Bright blue lights. Jam-packed arenas. Colorful signs waving in the crowd. Those are usually the sights and sounds of the Democratic National Convention.

Like much else, this year will be different.

The DNC Convention, hosted in Milwaukee, is poised to be a virtual event. The convention is hosted every four years and its ultimate goal is to officially nominate the Democratic party’s presidential pick.

Instead of large audiences and gatherings, the program will consist of a series of online video addresses — half of which will be prerecorded — that play out for two hours each night until former vice president Joe Biden formally accepts the Democratic presidential nomination on Thursday from his home in Delaware.

Every evening starting Monday, the convention will be headlined by speeches from elected officials like Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and House speaker Nancy Pelosi. Also giving speeches are former presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

The party will also vote to approve a new policy platform that includes topics like climate change, immigration, healthcare and education.

What’s new is that the party’s official 2020 platform begins with a land acknowledgement:

“The Democratic National Committee wishes to acknowledge that we gather together to state our values on lands that have been stewarded through many centuries by the ancestors and descendants of Tribal Nations who have been here since time immemorial,” the document reads.

The party platform states all 11 tribal nations whose land the convention is held on, including the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa Indians and the Forest County Potawatomi Community.

This year, Native delegates and committee members attending the virtual event will represent a wide-range of Indian Country, coming from states including Arizona, Minnesota, South Dakota and Washington.

On Tuesday the keynote address will feature 17 "rising stars" including Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez.

“Amidst all of the chaos and crises our nation is facing, Democrats are focused on finding new and innovative ways to engage more Americans than ever before—because that’s how we’ll mobilize the nation to defeat Donald Trump in November,” said Joe Solmonese, CEO of the 2020 Democratic National Convention. “The convention keynote has always been the bellwether for the future of our party and our nation, and when Americans tune in next week they’ll find the smart, steady leadership we need to meet this critical moment.”

The DNC’s Native American Caucus, an official constituency caucus of the organization, will host two meetings at the convention. They will be held Tuesday and Thursday afternoon beginning at 4pm ET.

Frank LaMere stands at the 2016 Native American Caucus meeting at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. LaMere, a co-founder of the Native American caucus, passed in 2019. (Photo by M. Meehan, DNC)
Frank LaMere stands at the 2016 Native American Caucus meeting at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. LaMere, a co-founder of the Native American caucus, passed in 2019. (Photo by M. Meehan, DNC)

For more than 20 years, Native people have played a role in the Democratic National Convention.

The Native American Caucus was co-founded by Frank LaMere, Winnebago of Nebraska, who passed in 2019. He was the longest-serving member of the Native caucus and also founded Nebraska’s Native caucus.


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Yvette Joseph, Colville and Cayuse Tribes, attended her first Democratic convention in 1988 in Atlanta, Georgia. She worked as support staff at the event giving credentials to guests.

Since then, Joseph has attended six conventions either as a national page, support staff or elected delegate.

One of the joys, Joseph told Indian Country Today, is to see the Native presence grow at the convention. She remembers in 1988, they had 36 Native delegates.

In 1992, they had 56 Native delegates.

In 1996, they had 78 Native delegates.

Then, in 2016, Joseph recollects a fond moment with LaMere at the convention. They gathered in a full room at the Native American caucus meeting in Philadelphia listening to allies of Indian Country, like the late Rep. John Lewis.

“We sat there together and Frank looked over and said to me, “Haven’t we come a long way?”

The 2016 DNC Convention included a substantial Native presence.

Lt. Governor of Minnesota Peggy Flanagan, White Earth Nation of Ojibwe, made history as the first Native woman to address the convention from the podium. She gave a three-minute speech written as an address to her daughter.

Rep. Deb Haaland, Laguna Pueblo, served as the first Native woman to chair the New Mexico Democratic Party. She addressed the convention in a traditional Laguna Pueblo dress while she voted for Hillary Clinton as the presidential nominee on behalf of the state of New Mexico.

Isleta Pueblo Governor Paul Torres gave an invocation prayer at the 2016 convention in Tiwa and English. He also dressed in traditional Isleta pueblo attire. 


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“I’m really excited for this year and looking forward to the opportunity for all of us in Indian Country to rally together in support of our nominees: Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Kamala Harris,” said Rion Ramirez, Turtle Mountain Chippewa. He is the Chief Executive Officer of Port Madison Enterprises.

Ramirez has served as the DNC’s Native American Caucus Chair for the last six years. He has played a leading role in making sure the 2020 Native caucus meetings run smoothly.

“I am asking everyone to get out, engage and remember how truly important this election is,” Ramirez said. “It is the most historic and important election of our lifetimes. And we, in Indian Country, can lead the way by getting out to do the work in our communities.”

On Monday, July 25, 2016, Rep. John Lewis addresses the Native American Caucus at the DNC Convention in Philadelphia. (Photo by M.Meehan, DNCC)
Rep. John Lewis addresses the Native American Caucus at the DNC Convention in Philadelphia. (Photo by M. Meehan, DNCC)

The Native American Caucus has been hosting a number of events in the last few months. In June, Senator Kamala Harris joined the group’s monthly call where she took questions from tribal leaders.

The call was also organized by Theresa Sheldon, Tulalip, who was hired as the DNC’s Native American Political Director in August 2019.

Here are a handful of Native delegates and committee members who will be participating in the 2020 DNC Convention:

Debbie Nez-Manuel
Debbie Nez-Manuel, Navajo, is a delegate representing Arizona. She holds a seat as one of Arizona’s committee members and is the first Indigenous person to be elected to this position.

Crystal Cavalier
Crystal Cavalier, Occaneechi Band of Saponi Nation, is a delegate representing North Carolina. She serves on the DNC's platform committee and is president of the Native American Caucus for the North Carolina Democratic Party.

Christina Blackcloud
Christina Blackcloud, Meskwaki, is a delegate representing Iowa.

Paulette Jordan
Paulette Jordan, Coeur d’Alene, is a delegate representing Idaho. She serves on the DNC Council on Environment and is a Climate Crisis Executive Board member. Jordan is currently running to represent Idaho in the U.S. Senate.

Rep. Sharice Davids
Rep. Sharice Davids, Ho-Chunk, is a delegate representing Kansas. She will serve as a vice chair of the DNC Convention, along with seven other delegates.

Donavon Hawk
Donavon Hawk, Crow, is a delegate depresenting Montana. He holds a seat as one of Montana’s National Committee Members and serves on the national convention’s rules committee. He is also currently running a Montana state House seat.

Rep. Deb Haaland
Rep. Deb Haaland, Laguna Pueblo, is a delegate representing New Mexico. She was appointed to the DNC’s platform drafting committee along with 14 others.

Deborah Parker
Deborah Parker, Tulalip, is a delegate representing Washington. She serves on the DNC’s National Platform Committee.

Rion Ramirez
Rion Ramirez, Turtle Mountain Chippewa, is the chair of the DNC’s Native American Caucus.

Raina Thiele
Raina Thiele, Dena'ina Athabascan and Yup'ik, is a delegate representing Alaska. She holds a seat on the DNC’s National Platform Committee. 

Indian Country Today will follow coverage of the DNC’s Native American Caucus meetings happening on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. 

8/17: This story has been updated to add Crystal Cavalier as a delegate

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Aliyah Chavez, Kewa Pueblo, is a reporter-producer at Indian Country Today. Follow her on Twitter: @aliyahjchavez or email her at achavez@indiancountrytoday.com.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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