Republicans unveil platform and project inclusion at convention

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and wife Melania Trump embrace at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, on July 18, 2016. Photo from RNC / Facebook

The Republican Party finally unveiled its platform on Monday as tens of thousands of the faithful gathered for the first election-year convention of the 2016 presidential season.

But while the 66-page document has drawn attention for taking the party in a more conservative direction, it fails to include any big new policy goals for Indian Country. The language in fact is nearly identical to the 2012 platform with the exception of just one sentence.

That new addition champions the Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act. The bill treats tribes in a manner similar to states when it comes to federal labor law, ensuring they can develop their own employment standards without interference.

"Native communities should have the same authority as state governments in labor matters, so that union bosses and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) cannot undermine the authority of tribal governments," the 2016 platform reads.

With Republicans in control of Congress, the bill has advanced the farthest Indian Country has ever seen. The House passed H.R.511 in November and it awaits action in the Senate.

Other priorities in which the GOP and Indian Country are in sync, however, are ignored. The party is once again promising to "modernize and improve" the Indian Health Service but the new platform does not go beyond the same generic phrase that was found in the 2012 document.

The omission is all the more glaring because key Republicans have managed to draw unprecedented attention to the troubled agency. At the same time, they have advanced legislative reforms that originated with tribes, mainly those in the Great Plains Area, a region where long-standing problems have gone uncorrected for years.

Another disconnect comes with the party's treatment of indigenous peoples. While the 2016 platform again demands "equitable participation in federal programs" for Native Hawaiians, Republicans have instead done the opposite by trying to exclude the original Hawaiians from bills that would benefit Indian Country as a whole.

The Republican effort stands in marked contrast to the bold and lofty platform being advanced by the Democrats, whose drafting committee included at least three tribal citizens. Their document adopts and expands on a slew of issues of importance in Indian Country, from sovereignty to sacred sites to climate change. Native Americans are also included in other areas of the party's agenda.

Republicans, though, have been trying to project inclusion as their convention kicked off in Cleveland, Ohio, on Monday. One of the prime-time speakers, Rudy Giuliani, a former mayor of New York City, spoke about police officer shootings that have resulted in the deaths of African Americans around the country.

"We reach out our arms with understanding and compassion to those who have lost loved ones because of police shootings – some justified, some unjustified," Giuliani said.

"Those that are unjustified must be punished. Those that are justified, we must apologize to," he added.

Native Americans are more likely to be killed by law enforcement than any other racial or ethnic group, according to the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice.

College Breaking on YouTube: Melania Trump Plagiarized Michelle Obama's Convention Speech - SIDE-BY-SIDE COMPARISON

Another prime-time speaker, Melania Trump, the wife of presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump, drew attention to her immigrant roots -- she was born in Slovenia and became a U.S. citizen in 2006. She described her husband, who has drawn criticism for negative comments about Native Americans, Hispanic people, followers of the Muslim faith and women, as someone who has "successfully worked with people of many faiths and with many nations."

"Donald intends to represent all the people, not just some of the people," Trump said. "That includes Christians and Jews and Muslims. it includes Hispanics and African-Americans and Asians, and the poor and the middle class."

But the message was quickly overshadowed after Jarrett Hill, an African-American journalist, pointed out numerous similarities between the speech and one given by First Lady Michelle Obama on a very similar stage -- at the Democratic National Convention in 2008. The Trump campaign did not outright admit to plagiarism even though the words and phrases in certain passages are nearly identical.

"In writing her beautiful speech, Melania's team of writers took notes on her life’s inspirations, and in some instances included fragments that reflected her own thinking," senior communications advisor Jason Miller said in a statement. "Melania’s immigrant experience and love for America shone through in her speech, which made it such a success.”

The Republican convention runs through Thursday, when Trump is expected to accept his party's nomination for president. He made a brief appearance on the stage on Monday night to introduce his wife and came back after she concluded her remarks.

The GOP platform committee was chaired by Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyoming), the leader of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Committee.

Republican Party Platform Documents:
2016: Honoring Our Relationship with American Indians | 2012: Honoring Our Relationship with American Indians | 2008: Supporting Native American Communities | 2004: Native Americans | 2000: Native Americans

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