Anishinaabek Caucus of the Michigan Democratic Party
The Anishinaabek Caucus hosted Michigan’s Native Vote Townhall for the Tribal citizens in Michigan and all Michiganders who live on Treaty Lands. Julie Dye, Pokagon Band of the Potawatomi Nation, Anishinaabek Caucus Secretary and a Founder, and candidate for Cass County Commissioner began by updating a demographic, “As of 2018 there are more than 100 thousand Tribal citizens of voting age in Michigan.”
Holly T. Bird, San Felipe Pueblo/Yaqi/Perepucha, Attorney, Tribal Court Judge, and Co-Director of Title Track, moderated questions to 3 leaders in the Native community: Clare Pratt, Navajo Nation citizen and Director of Tribal Engagement on the Biden-Harris presidential campaign; Aaron Payment, Chairperson for the Sault Ste Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians; Bryan Newland, Chairperson for Bay Mills Indian Community. Pratt began by defining sovereignty, “An inherent right to self-governance, “and by virtue of being inherent, Clara continued, “It is not given by another governing body.” And neither can an inherent right be taken away. This inherent right to self-governance predates the formation of United States and has been codified in the United States Constitution.
Newland pointed out that Treaties codified in the Constitutions are laws. Ignorance of them does not make breaking the law permissible. Bird highlighted that these Treaties are everyone’s Treaties to uphold. Pratt observed, where Native and United States sovereign nations govern in cooperation, it has been the Tribal leaders who have the expertise in laws, policy, and Treaties, while legislators and federal agents lack reciprocal knowledge and thus carry forth in ignorance. Mandating education for all federal employees in all branches of government is needed. Payment, who has been a professor of Indian Studies, referenced the Department of Interior, Broken Promise Report of 2019. In sum, Treaties are in effect, but Congress ignores them, which has created a structural bias leading to the rising cancer rates, highest suicide rates, and lowest education attainment.
Many times, the Affordable Healthcare Act was cited, because the $10M Indian Healthcare receives $10M would be eliminated if the ACA is struck down in the Supreme Court. Both Payment and Newland said that the Tribal Nations will be the hardest hit. COVID-19 is taking a larger toll among Native Americans. Within the Choctaw Nation the death rate is 1:10.
Pratt built upon this universal concern within among Tribal citizens, stating “There is no path to the White House that does not go through Indian Country.” 2% of a population is enough to change the electoral votes in swing and battleground states.
Pratt summarized Biden’s policy commitments that have a direct impact on Tribes in Michigan. Biden will nominate Tribal citizens to prominent positions; reinstate the White Council of Native American Affairs; reinstate the Annual White House Trial Conference; tackle human trafficking trend targeting Native Americans, known as Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW); restore tribal lands and safeguard natural tribal resources.
Biden promises on day one to issue Executive Orders to preserve biodiversity and slow species extinction rates; leverage natural climate change solutions by preserving land and water by 2030. Net-zero emissions will be achieved by 2050 and there will be a 100% Clean Economy that includes Indian Country as part of the new clean economy.
There will also be plans to increase public school funding. For higher education Biden will double Pell grants, provide for 2y at a Community College or Tribal College.
Importantly, Biden will take measures to restore the Voting Rights Act, by making judicial appointments so that every law that suppresses or challenges the right to vote is undone in court.
Payment-recommended that those running for office must understand Treaties and build a relationship with Tribal Leaders in their jurisdiction. Moreover, in Michigan’s District-1, there are enough Tribal citizens to decide the vote. This should matter to the candidates and the Native voters. “Be the firewall” was Payment’s final word to Tribal citizens. And to elected officials and candidates, Payment warned, “Don’t take us for granted.”
Pratt spoke of how the elders persevered and that policies to eradicate continue, but “we have to show up. Every day. Future generations should be able to say that we made it better.” This is a fight for Native American values, traditions, and our inherent right to self-governance. Dye concluded with the reminder, “Every vote today is a vote for our future generations.”
Anishinaabek Caucus of Michigan Democratic Party is a political caucus of the Michigan Democratic Party advocating for the issues and concerns of the 12 Tribes in Michigan.