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Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and 2020 Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg released his comprehensive Indian policy plan Monday morning, ‘Indian Country: Achieving Autonomy for Tribal Nations and Enhancing Opportunities for Native People to Thrive.’

The plan is broken into six subsections: sovereignty and trust relationship, economic development, justice and voting rights, health, education and climate and natural resources.

In the plan, Buttigieg calls for resetting the relationship between the federal government and tribal nations by acknowledging “shameful failures” from the past and recommitting to active diplomacy with tribes. He describes this kind of engagement as critical because there is no “one size fits all” solution to the challenges and issues facing Indian Country.

“The solutions best for Tribal Nations in southern California are probably not the same as those best for the Tribal Nation in Iowa,” the policy plan states. “That is why we must engage in dialogue across Indian Country to create local and unique policies that are driven by Tribal Nations and Native communities themselves.”

Buttigieg released the plan on the morning of Indigenous Peoples’ Day and on the eve of the fourth Democratic presidential debate.

He joins at least four other Democratic candidates who have released policy plans related to American Indian and Alaska Natives. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, and author Marianne Williamson have released their own versions.

Amongst the meat of Buttigieg’s plan is to set up a commission within his first 100 days in office dedicated to studying the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women, including coverage for Indian Country as part of his $80 billion “Internet for All” initiative; as well as ensuring the Indian Health Service is fully funded through mandatory appropriations to avoid a situation like what took place during the government shutdown earlier this year.

One of the most important responsibilities of the office of the president is appointing judges to the federal bench. Currently there is one Native American judge serving on the federal bench, Diane Humetewa, Hopi.

 The one justice who comes close to understanding Indian law is Justice Neil Gorsuch. Attorney Joel Williams of the Native American Rights Fund said in July that Justice Gorsuch has “substantially more Indian law experience than any other Supreme Court nominee in recent history.”

If elected president, Buttigieg says he will nominate judges with an understanding of federal Indian law and who have experience dealing with tribal communities.

“As President, Pete will strive to appoint judges who show a commitment to tribal sovereignty,” the policy says.

Despite the timing of the policy proposals release, Native issues have yet to be a major topic of discussion during the debates and will likely be overshadowed again by the current impeachment inquiry into President Trump.

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The first caucus of the season occurs in Iowa in February and currently Buttigieg is polling behind the three-frontrunner candidates Biden, Sanders and Warren.

Debate qualification requirements are also going to be getting more strict. In order to make the stage for the November debate, candidates must reach 3 percent in four polls approved by the Democratic National Committee and acquire more than 165,000 unique donors.

Buttigieg will be part of the fourth Democratic debate tonight with 11 other candidates at Otterbein University in Ohio. The debate is hosted by The New York Times.


Fourth Democratic Debate

WHEN: Tonight, Oct. 15

TIME: 8 p.m. EST


SOCIAL MEDIA: #DemDebate #NativeVote20


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Kolby KickingWoman is a reporter/producer for Indian Country Today. He is Blackfeet/Gros Ventre from the great state of Montana and currently reports and lives in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter - @KDKW_406. Email -