Elizabeth Warren maybe ‘one of the favorites’

Jourdan Bennett-Begaye

Updated: Attendees impressed with Warren’s knowledge of Native issues #NativeForum #NativeVote20

Forum attendees welcomed Sen. Elizabeth Warren with lulus and a standing ovation after Rep. Deb Haaland, Laguna Pueblo, introduced the presidential candidate on stage at the largest and second Native American presidential forum.

Haaland, who also received welcoming applause, spent approximately 25 minutes introducing the Massachusetts senator and talking about their legislative proposal that they collaborated on. Other candidates’ introductions were scheduled for around two minutes.

The New Mexico representative decided to address Warren’s ancestry controversy in the beginning so the panelists could focus on the issues.

“Some media folks kept asking whether the criticisms of her regarding her ancestral background will hamper her ability to convey a clear campaign message,” Haaland said. ““Elizabeth knows she will be attacked. She’s here to be an unwavering partner in our struggle because that is what a leader does.”

The room erupted in applause.

(RELATED: Haaland calls Warren ‘a great friend … and a great partner for Indian Country’)

Yesterday at a press conference, Judith LeBlanc, director of the Native Organizers Alliance, who is the co-host of the forum, predicted that the 2020 election “will be the largest Indian voter turnout that we’ve ever seen.”

How is that?

Forum moderator and Indian Country Today Editor Mark Trahant has been reporting on politics and federal Indian policy for years.

“One of the things that’s really striking about the Native vote when you look at the data, 2018 was a record for an off-year election but we still have this back and forth where presidential years get more people than non-presidential years,” he said. “To go back in history we have not have had a vote bigger than Barack Obama and if we can get back to that level, it would probably shift seven states easy.”

Arizona and Minnesota could be shifted. If it’s a close call, Washington and Montana are possible, he said.

Alaska could be a “surprise,” he said. Sen. Lisa Murkowski credits her 2010 win to the Alaska Native vote.

Wisconsin could happen “conceivably,” he said. And Nevada.

Washington, Alaska, and Arizona are part of the top 10 states with the highest population of eligible Native voters, according to the National Congress of American Indians.

(L to R) Akicita Two Eagle, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Ramona Rose Two Eagle, and Katrina Fuller, Rosebud Sioux. Fuller is the granddaughter of OJ Semans, executive director of Four Directions.
(L to R) Akicita Two Eagle, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Ramona Rose Two Eagle, and Katrina Fuller, Rosebud Sioux. Fuller is the granddaughter of OJ Semans, executive director of Four Directions.(Photo by Jourdan Bennett-Begaye)

Those Native voters are looking at how candidates will help them as tribal nations and individuals.

Robin LeBeau, Cheyenne River Sioux, said she and many others want to look at the issues their communities are facing.

“We have important issues to move forward with here. We have many, many more years to deal with our issues cause every year we’re going to have to move forward,” she said. “We like to move forward.”

Her top three policy areas she likes candidates addressing are water, treaty rights, and human rights.

“When it comes to sovereignty and treaties, I want the candidates to look at us like this,” LeBeau said while pointing at herself. “Are we not humans?”

When she was a tribal council representative for the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe from 2010 to 2014, she took a trip to the Capitol to meet with lawmakers.

The trip was “a waste of money,” she said because they met with staffers of lawmakers. “We can’t get to the next level because nobody is looking at us for the true leaders we are.”

Robin LeBeau(Photo by Jourdan Bennett-Begaye)

The red carpet is rolled out for other global leaders when they visit the U.S. and sit with the president, she said.

“They’re given a table right next to each other to talk about it, right? Are we not that leader?” she asked.

LeBeau went on to question why tribal leaders of sovereign nations are not treated with the same respect as foreign dignitaries.

“We’re still not given that same direct role. Like Elizabeth Warren said, it’s written in the law but it’s not being worked on,” she said. “We have to talk to someone less than the president himself when doing business and that’s not government-to-government, that is not nation-to-nation.”

That’s what Warren plans to do as proposed in her 19-page legislative proposal for Indian Country. The “Honoring Promises to Native Nations” act wants to re-establish a permanent, cabinet-level White House Council on Native American Affairs.

Forum attendee Sheila Corbine, Lac Courte Oreilles, said she likes how Warren’s proposal is “an actual plan” for Native communities.

“The other candidates said the right things but it was more pie in the sky,” she said. “Like they said it would be great if we could do these things but it wasn’t a plan. A realistic plan.”

Corbine thought it was “good” that Warren has the expertise of Haaland’s knowledge and reputation.

“I think it was pretty clear that [Warren] is relatively well-versed on many of the issues that Native people have,” she said.

Vernon Ike Schmidt.(Photo by Jourdan Bennett-Begaye)

Vernon Ike Schmidt, Rosebud Sioux, noted the support Warren had in the room.

“I thought Senator Warren did well,” he said. “I think she’s one of the favorites.”

She had the largest crowd of the day at the forum with approximately 500 people listening.

Each policy area of her legislative proposal hit key areas that attendees want in a president: sovereignty, treaty and trust obligations, and self-determination.

“We need to change the rules and make it happen. Government-to-government relationship. That is not optional. We need to change the rules and make it happen,” she said. “The message I have for Indian Country is one of resilience and hope.” 

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Jourdan Bennett-Begaye, Diné, is the Washington editor for Indian Country Today based in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter: @jourdanbb. Email: jbennett-begaye@indiancountrytoday.com

Comments (19)
No. 1-8

Nope! There are a lot of we Urban Indians (71+% of the Native American/Alaska Native population) and we're not buying into the tribal leaders forgiveness. We OWN our votes! It's deeply troubling that the forum allowed Warren to get away without questioning her years of lies claiming to be Native American on her Harvard and State Bar applications. And it's troubling to read that more than six conversations with her staff who expressed anxiousness about the format and one person's guarantees indicate a deal was made! I would expect more from independent Indian media! I'm disturbed that tribal leaders are so ready to forgive & move on. More than 71% of our American Indian/Alaska Native populations reside in Urban areas. While tribal leaders may make calculated decisions -- I and all Natives I know do NOT! We vote for integrity! We vote for people who walk their talk! We support the Hon. Bernie Sanders!


For as much as Public Indians and the Performatively Woke on the Internet talk about Sovereignty, they sure are selective about when they decide the voice of Tribal Leaders should be persuasive.

Urbans are 71% per DATA, but the anti-Warren takeaway is ANECDOTE. A good many of us Urban Natives are both loyal to our Tribal Governments and recognize the Policy Deliverables, the tangible victory this represents for all of us.

Like Warren or not, she has the most dedicated Policy Proposals for Indian Country. If you don’t back her, at least demand other candidates do better, as she has.

Like all politicians in office, if Warren does not deliver, she will pay a price for it. I’m worried less about that, considering Rep. Deb Haaland’s presence, role, and dedication on Team Warren and in crafting these proposals.

If you’re fine with Indian Country just being a few bullet-points on a mainstream campaign, good for you, but that doesn’t work for all of us.


Jourdan!!! First of all, I love your writing and think that your stories are incredibly important and well done. Second, your writing is helping me understand how much Warren is actually trying to bridge the gap that she once created by claiming to be one of us. She’s definitely not a native Jesus, but the fact that she’s taking some time to be with us is better than what most of the other candidates are doing (they think our vote is too small or want to represent their own constituents more (booker, yang, Castro)

David Hollenshead
David Hollenshead

The hate towards Senator Warren is very familiar to me: As a child, I quickly learned that I was "the other," but if I mentioned that my grandmother was Métis, even when I also stated that my mother was adopted, I was scolded by white teachers & hated on by white students. My bones & teeth are Native, my complexion is similar to a European's and my hair is in between. So I have extremely broad shoulders, broad & high cheekbones, wide feet, shovel shaped incisors, etc. I can't grow a beard, have limited body hair, and the sun turns hair on my head turns reddish brown. Both of my parents are mixed, and while I don't pass for white, if I share my ancestry with white people, I tend to be called a liar, and accused of "cultural appropriation". For example: at Portland's First Unitarian Church, I was a "liar" & a "thug" and even accused of bringing a weapon into a house of worship. The strange thing is that a lot of white people seem to think that having Native Ancestry is good for getting perks like free college, preference on job applications, and even "Tribal Money". The truth is often a shock for them, as all I have ever received is hate, and discrimination. That if you are not a member of a Federally Recognized Nation, then it is best to answer questions about ones ancestry as "I don't know, my mother was adopted". So I am not at all surprised that Donald Trump is renewing his attacks on Senator Warren, because she had a Native Ancestor, generations ago. And while she passes for white, those of us who are mixed but don't pass for white are very, very familiar with his type of personal attack...

pfkisa at gmail.com
pfkisa at gmail.com

Looking great :)

Gabriele Drozdowski.


Elizabeth Warren is a fraud


Great article! Well written. I applaud her knowledge on Native issues & her drive to be inclusionary & FAIR. Go Warren!


All people need to wake up...they are not for us, never have been and never will be! The illusion is controlled opposition. None of them have ever done anything for Native peoples except exploit and use us to get votes and to steal from us over and over again. Piss on us an tell us it's only rain and yes I too believed in their magic words for years, but now I am awake. Democrat or republican does not matter...they all drink wine together and go to the same parties and laugh at us. They are on their own side not ours. Sorry, but this is my opinion after observing these clowns for over 50 years.