Tribal leaders in Great Plains welcome Hillary Clinton's experience

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is counting on the Native voter when New Mexico goes to the polls on June 7, 2016. Photo from Native Americans for Hillary / Facebook

With the 2016 election entering a critical phase, two Great Plains tribal leaders are citing experience as the driving factor in their endorsement of Democrat Hillary Clinton for president.

Chairman Mark Fox of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation in North Dakota described himself as a "recent supporter" of the candidate. But he was swayed by her record as First Lady to President Bill Clinton, her tenure as a U.S. Senator from New York and her position as Secretary of the Department of State.

"I think the real positive attribute for Hillary Clinton to become president in regards to Indian Country is that she's got this great experience," Fox said on a conference call on Friday. "It's governmental experience, it's real experience."

Chairman Harold Frazier of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe in South Dakota offered several specifics on the call. As First Lady, he said Clinton worked with his state's Congressional delegation to develop and pass the Children's Health Insurance Program in 1997.

"That has helped a lot of Indian children to quality health care," Frazier said.

During her eight years in the Senate, Frazier said Clinton worked on legislation to ensure tribes had direct access to grants for health care, environmental, law enforcement and other programs. She also was a co-sponsor of a bill to reauthorize the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, an initiative that finally became permanent in 2010, after President Barack Obama took office.

By that time, Clinton was serving as Secretary of State in Obama's administration. Frazier credited her with a shift in policy that saw the United States express its support for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Frazier said the document "continues to strengthen the vital government-to-government relationship between tribes and the United States."

Supporters of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump in Sacramento, California, on June 1, 2016. He's still urging primary voters in the state to turn out to the polls even though he has clinched the party's nomination. Photo from Facebook

The lengthy record shows Clinton is ready to support Indian Country as president, Fox said on the call. In contrast, he expressed concerns about Donald Trump, who has clinched the Republican Party's nomination.

Fox said the real estate mogul "has never demonstrated anything in favor of Indian nations." Trump has long antagonized tribes because of their presence in the Indian gaming industry.

On several occasions in the 1990s, he used racially charged language to question the legitimacy of tribes in the Northeast, where his commercial interests were largely based. In the 2000s, he was sanctioned in New York for running a shady advertising campaign that portrayed the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe as criminals.

So far, Trump has not said anything about tribes during the campaign cycle but he has drawn criticism in the opinion pages of Indian Country Today for mocking Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts). He has repeatedly derided her as "Pocahontas" and "the Indian" due to her disputed claims of Indian ancestry.

"Trump shows us time and again that he has no respect for women, and by continuing to use the term 'Pocahontas' as a racial slur, he is showing us his particular distain for Native people and women, especially," activist Ruth Hopkins wrote on ICT on May 27.

Clinton and fellow Democrat Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, have embraced tribes during the 2016 race. Both have developed Indian policy platforms and have hired tribal citizens to serve as advisers and to work on their campaigns.

Sanders, though, has beaten Clinton in terms of the number of visits to Indian Country and the number of meetings with tribal leaders in a slew of states. His speeches regularly include messages about Native Americans, giving their issues more of a mainstream focus.

When it comes to platforms, Clinton and Sanders otherwise are similar in that they are pledging to continue the gains made during the Obama administration. They have vowed to continue the annual White House Tribal Nations Conference and to strengthen tribal consultation.

But Sanders has gone further by offering more specific goals, such as establishing an Indian affairs position at the White House Office of Management and Budget, an agency that tribes have long complained as unresponsive to their needs and as difficult to navigate.

"The United States' government's relationship with the Native Americans has been a disaster from day one," Sanders said in a video message to the National Congress of American Indians in February.

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders campaigns on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota on May 12, 2016. Photo from Bernie 2016

Sanders serves as a Senator from Vermont, a state with a very small Indian presence, and he does not have much of a record on Indian issues. His first significant action didn't come until last year, when he introduced S.2242, the Save Oak Flat Act, a bill to protect a sacred site in Arizona from a mining development.

Clinton is within reach of securing the Democratic Party's nomination, according to the The New York Times, but Sanders has vowed to keep fighting. A large number of delegates are up for grabs when voters in six states go to the polls on Tuesday but he insists the race won't be settled until the Democratic National Convention, which takes place July 18-21 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

The six states include South Dakota, where Native Americans represent nearly 9 percent of the population in South Dakota, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In the past, their votes have played a key role in determining the outcome of elections.

In addition to Chairman Frazier, the leaders of six more tribes with land bases in South Dakota are backing Clinton but it's not a given that the endorsements will sway the individual Native voter. In Washington, a slew of tribal leaders came out for Clinton but Sanders ended up winning the state in March.

California is also up for grabs on Tuesday. The state is home to more Native Americans than any other, according to the Census Bureau, yet neither Sanders nor Clinton, at this point, have touted tribal endorsements from the state. More than 100 tribes are based in California.

Another significant state is New Mexico, where Native Americans make up 10.4 percent of the population, according to the Census Bureau. No tribal endorsements have been promoted by either candidate there either. More than 20 tribes are based in the state.

The Republican National Convention takes place July 18-21, in Cleveland, Ohio. No prominent Indian Republicans have come out in support of Trump ahead of the event but at least one of them is backing Clinton.

"Moving forward, we need a president who will be inclusive and reach out to all people," Chairman John Berrey of the Quapaw Tribe said in a statement last week. "We need a president who has the experience and ability to bring the nation together and work as a team for the betterment of all, regardless of race, income or gender."

The full list of North Dakota and South Dakota tribal leader endorsements for Hillary Clinton follows:
Chairman Harold Frazier, Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe
Chairman Brandon Sazue, Crow Creek Sioux Tribe
Chairman Anthony Reider, Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe
Chairman William Kindle, Rosebud Sioux Tribe
Chairman Robert Flying Hawk, Yankton Sioux Tribe
Chairman Mark Fox, Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation
Chairman Richard W. McCloud, Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians
Chairman Dave Archambault II, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe
Chairman David Flute, Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate

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