I am a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and a life-long Republican who has served under three Republican presidents and six Republican Cabinet Secretaries. I’ve also worked on countless Republican campaigns, and in 2008, I had the honor to serve as Co-Chair of American Indians for Senator John McCain during his bid for the White House.
My Republican creds are pretty solid, but I can no longer tolerate what this party is doing under the Trump administration.
For over 45 years, I have had the privilege of working for tribal governments and on tribal issues, so it has been particularly painful watching the Trump administration not only undermine but also erode the principals of tribal sovereignty and treaty rights – principals I have spent my professional life defending.
Indian Country cannot afford another president whose inattention to Native issues exacerbates already extensive social and economic problems. But one presidential candidate has emerged that actually gives me hope for our future: former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
When he first announced his candidacy, I asked a colleague who worked with the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians as that tribe negotiated with South Bend to build a tribal casino. To my surprise, he told me the band was very impressed with the respect Pete showed them throughout their negotiations, acknowledging their sovereignty and treating them as co-equal governments.
Later, I had the chance to meet Pete at an event in Virginia and ask him a question. I told him the needs of Indian Country were still great and, as president, it would be his duty and responsibility to address those needs. Instead of simply thanking me for my question, Pete spent the next ten minutes discussing tribal sovereignty, tribal governments, and his concern for growing unmet needs in Indian Country.
I was so impressed. Never had I heard a presidential candidate speak with the passion, conviction, and knowledge of tribal issues as I heard from Pete that evening. And not only does Pete talk about bringing people together and creating a sense of belonging, these are values his campaign lives by.
Working with my friend Congressman Don Beyer, who endorsed Pete, we assembled some of the brightest minds in Indian Country and tribal advocates to produce a Native American policy framework for the Buttigieg campaign.
When Congressman Bayer submitted the framework on our behalf it was welcomed with open arms. Unlike previous campaigns I’ve worked on, where Indian Country issues were typically an afterthought, the Buttigieg team embraced our proposals and expanded them into the most comprehensive, visionary Indian Country and Native communities policy statement that I’ve seen in my 45 years of tribal advocacy.
Pete’s policy provides thoughtful, constructive approaches to resolving issues that have plagued Indian Country for decades including jurisdictional issues, the Oliphant decision, funding for health care, dual taxation, intrusion on tribal lands by non-Indian interests, religious freedom, tribal labor sovereignty, violence against Native women, and broken treaties – including the Treaty of New Echota – as well as climate change, clean water, and energy.
Most importantly, the policy demonstrates Pete’s understanding and commitment to upholding tribal sovereignty and treaty rights. His proposal goes beyond consultation, which has more often than not has been perfunctory and simply lip service, and proposes an unprecedented and meaningful approach to the federal-tribal government to government relationship.
His administration would create a Tribal Nations Administration, a cabinet level agency that would consolidate tribal programs throughout the federal government, replacing the Bureau of Indian Affairs. In support of this agency, he would also create a senior level White House Advisor dedicated to restoring Native communities and an Office of Native Affairs in the Office of Management and Budget. In addition, he would restore the White House Tribal Nations Conference, hold regional or issue-based convenings with tribal leaders, and host the first ever tribal state dinner.
For all these reasons and more, this Republican Cherokee is proud to vote for Pete Buttigieg, and on March 3, I hope you join me. Indian Country needs Pete in the White House.
Please go to his web site www.peteforamerica.com for more information.
Jana McKeag, Cherokee Nation, is president of Lowry Strategies, which provides bipartisan federal and state government affairs consulting services. She has over forty years of experience dealing with tribes and tribal issues.