Brandon Ecoffey: Democrat Bernie Sanders puts the people first

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders listens to Evelyn Espinoza of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe at a community meeting on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota on May 12, 2016. Photo from Rosebud Sioux Tribe Health Administration / Facebook

People Before Campaign Contributions
A note from the editor’s desk
By Brandon Ecoffey
Lakota Country Times Editor

When I was a child my parents would talk about the time in 1968 when Robert F. Kennedy visited the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. At the time of his historic visit my father was working as a tribal police officer and to this day he speaks with pride about the time he was allowed to work as part of Kennedy’s security team.

In 1999, President Bill Clinton came to reservation in an event that I was allowed to see as a 15 year-old. It was then that he unveiled a plan to lift underprivileged communities out of poverty with the introduction of empowerment zones that were supposed to bring in new investments to communities like ours.

Bill Clinton said, “We have in America almost 19 million new jobs. We have the lowest unemployment rate ever recorded for African Americans and Hispanics. For over two years, our country has had an unemployment rate below five percent, but here on this reservation the unemployment rate is 75 percent.”

Since then not much has changed in our community despite the fact that many in Washington are now aware of the living conditions in reservation communities across the Great Plains. How is it that for more than fifty years, lawmakers have opted to allow for Indian Country to become the symbol for intergenerational poverty? We hear so many Washington insiders talk of rebuilding nations in the Middle East, yet, for a fraction of the investment the U.S. has made in Iraq our communities could have been rebuilt.

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Last week Bernie Sanders arrived on the reservation to see first-hand the very same things that both Robert Kennedy and President Bill Clinton saw when they toured our community decades ago. They will see elderly people living without running water. They will see children being raised in addiction burdened homes. And they will see people dying of diseases that first-world countries have long forgot to view as a threat. He will also confront the reality that the federal programs serving Indian Country (that have been guaranteed through treaties and Supreme Court decisions) are still grossly underfunded and thus inadequate. The current state of Indian Country is the direct result of policy decisions made by the United States government and this truth is what Bernie must take away from his visit to Pine Ridge.

When I came out and endorsed Bernie Sanders earlier this year it was because I saw a man who was running for President of the United States for all the right reasons. His campaign was not funded by the big banks or the powers behind the corporate news media. He, like many of us, was doing his work for the people. This is why Bernie is different.

If real change is to ever come to Indian Country, it will not come packaged by the political elites who stand to benefit from the status-quo. It will come in the form of a man like Bernie who has chosen to put the people before campaign contributions.

(Brandon Ecoffey is the editor of LCT and an enrolled citizen of the Oglala Lakota Nation who was born and raised on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Brandon earned his education at Dartmouth College and has received multiple regional and national awards for his work in Indian Country.)

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