Indian Country's seat at Joe Biden's table

Patty Talahongva

Indian Country Today newscast for Tuesday July 28 with guest Clara Pratte, tribal engagement director for Joe Biden

Patty Talahongva

Indian Country Today

The presidential election is 98 days away. It will be an election we have never seen or experienced before all due to COVID-19. The pandemic has changed the usual ways campaigns are handled, there are no public gatherings and even the polling sites will be restricted. It's a challenge to reach Indian Country in any election and now in the age of the coronavirus it's especially challenging. 

Clara Pratte, Navajo, was hired as the tribal engagement director for the Joe Biden campaign. She served as the chief of staff for Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye and she led the tribe's D.C. office. Pratte also founded Strongbow Strategies, a firm that handles IT and cyber security support, emergency management among other things.

Clara Pratte is our guest today. Here are a few of her comments:  

"One of the main things that we're doing of course is this digital outreach. In that effort, we have to be really mindful that the digital divide in Indian country is severe in many places."

"So we need to make an effort to meet people where they're at. That means engaging in other forms of outreach radio, in-person, where it's safe, of course and just all those ways that we need to get the platform out there, the agenda out there, make sure Indian country knows what Joe Biden is going to do for them." 

"Our key initiative is to make sure that all voters and especially Indian country voters in places like Arizona, Indian country voters are a substantial part of the voting block. And it's critically important that all of Indian country knows what a Biden presidency will do for them."

"Vice President Biden is extremely respectful of the nation to nation relationship that tribal governments have with the United States. He's reached out early to many tribal leaders and we want to keep that momentum going so that Indian country knows that in a Joe Biden presidency, they have a seat at the table."

"We just rolled out another part of the build back better racial equity plan for the economy. And in that we talked specifically about capital infusion into communities of color and specifically into Indian country. We know that economic development maintains to be one of the challenges in many parts of our communities. Joe Biden has a plan to invest more money in Native CDFIs to get money in the hands of entrepreneurs."

"We also rolled out this week a women's equity policy, which addresses many of the things that women of color face. And again, in tribal communities, you see this exacerbated, many women leave the workforce to take care of their elders, their aging parents, or their children."

"Also having universal pre-K for three and four year olds across the country would help millions of working moms like myself. I've got two little ones and being able to have affordable childcare is critical."

"The Violence Against Women Act, which Vice President Biden was critical as one of the authors and the initial author of that act. And he's very serious about addressing, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women in our communities and addressing the tribal justice inequities."

"Vice President Biden has reaffirmed support for the AA program as it's commonly known or the small business AA program, which allows for small businesses, tribally owned, Alaska Native corporations and Native Hawaiian organizations to access the federal procurement market. So all of those things have a great impact in Indian country and I'm really looking forward to seeing those implemented when Vice President Biden is President Biden."

"You know, the missing murdered Indigenous women crisis in Indian country is real and I welcome anybody who wants to draw attention to this crisis. I know that Joe Biden, when he is president will take very serious things like having tribal voices at the Department of Justice...and those are things that have to happen early on in any presidency, not just in, you know in waning months. 

"Vice President Biden, the McGirt case specifically did put out a statement reaffirming his commitment to honoring treaties that have been established by the United States over the history of time. And I know that that's a critically important piece for the Vice President is that making sure that any promises that are made by the United States government are upheld."

"One of the other things that he's mentioned in his policy platform is mandatory funding of the Indian Health Service. So just a recognition that there have been promises made there have been commitments made, that's very important for Vice President Biden as we move forward with his administration to make sure that we're honoring those commitments across Indian country."

"We don't want to pigeon hole people into specific roles. And we're seeing that in Indian country as well. I'm extremely heartened to know that we have multiple people across Indian country that are serving in different capacities within this campaign that are not tribal, specifically focused. My role is specifically tribal but we've got people throughout the campaign and if that's any indication I know and I have a lot of confidence that when we go into a Biden Presidency, you're going to see Indian country well-represented in multiple places and not just at the Department of Interior or the Indian Health Service."

Black civil rights

Our national correspondent Mary Annette Pember joins us to give a preview of a story she's working on that explores the interconnectedness of the Black civil rights movement and the American Indian civil rights movement. Here are a few of her comments: 

"I really looked at two things. I think one is, how is it that, what contributes to creating these moments that kind of just take off, you know, what is a spark as for instance, Standing Rock and now the Black Lives Matter movement. So what are the various things that come together? So I wanted to look at that, what has happened historically."

"And then also the role that Black people and activists and advocates have historically played in helping to prepare the ground for the rest of us. It looks like, as one looks back, I mean, they have consistently played a big role for us and other color people of color."

"During the 50s and 60s, the Civil Rights movement, when we think of the Martin Luther King era, you know, people had served during the wars, World War II and the Korean War, and of course encountered racism and segregation there. And then they came home and they encountered the exact same things after having served their country."

"And also police brutality against Black people was a big issue. That was also a motivator. School desegregation, Brown vs. the Board of Education."

"Those were like tremendous motivators and really riveted the country and inspired other people to call for the same things. Native people also served in the military and experienced many of the same things. And as well as their black cohorts, they came home and found that they face the same situations here at home."

"And I think that in elevating these calls for equity and fair representation in school and in work and just in society, it was the role that black activists and advocates really inspired and opened up, as I said, prepared the ground for the rest of us."

"When we think of A.I.M. they were quite inspired by the Black Panthers and they are a unique organization and they were not necessarily representative of all of the calls to action that Native people had. AIM was very inspired, as I said, by the Black Panthers in the late 60s."

"They did certainly rivet the nation's attention, with the takeover of Wounded Knee, et cetera. But I think, you know, Native people were looking for the same things that Black people were looking for. They were looking for equity and work."

"I think that was a unifying moment as the community responded to decades of police brutality. And that was AIM in many ways, was formed in response to that."

"And it's interesting when we come back to Minneapolis the death of George Floyd has sparked this recent wave of civil unrest. And again, coming back to that iconic city where things have happened, the birth of the American Indian Movement there, and now looking at the protests that are happening across the country.

"We're seeing not just Confederates statutes being torn down, the statues that are of colonizers, Christopher Columbus and others as well. So it's really interesting to see the connection between the two groups of people and the struggles they both face and how now they're coming together in this role of activism to make change that's positive for communities of color.

Also in the newscast, Jourdan Bennett-Begaye has the latest numbers of positive COVID-19 tests in Indian Country.

The anchor and executive producer of the newscast is Patty Talahongva.

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