Indian Country makes presence known at Democratic convention

Principal Chief Bill John Baker speaks at a hospitality tent hosted by the Cherokee Nation at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on July 25, 2016. He called the air-conditioned tent an "oasis" for the Cherokee and Oklahoma delegations in reference to sweltering temperatures in the city. Photo by Indianz.Com

Indian Country was well represented as the Democratic National Convention kicked off on Monday.

Whether it was a hospitality tent hosted by the Cherokee Nation or meetings among American Indian and Alaska Native delegates, Democrats expressed pride in their prominent presence in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. They said it reflected their party's inclusive nature, with many drawing a contrast to their Republican counterparts.

"I think we're going to see a convention that is night and day to the convention last week," Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker said as he welcomed delegates from his tribe and the state of Oklahoma to the Wells Fargo Center, where the hospitality tent was located.

"Because whether you're for Hillary or Bernie, we're Democrats," Baker said in reference to Hillary Clinton, who is set to claim her party's nomination for president after facing a tough challenge from Bernie Sanders.

Baker's sentiments were echoed throughout the day as Democrats sought to display unity amid dissension that spilled out on the DNC floor, in protests on the streets and at the convention center where the party is holding numerous councils, caucuses and events. Countless supporters of Sanders, including those from Indian Country, remain extremely passionate about the Senator from Vermont, whose campaign kept tribal issues high on the agenda.

Brandon Stevens, a council member for the Oneida Nation, at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He's attended the party's last convention but this is his first as a delegate. "It's been an eye-opening experience," Stevens said at the Wells Fargo Center on July 25, 2016. Photo by Indianz.Com

"Whether or not he is the nominee for president, we still want his progressive ideas to move forward," Brandon Stevens, a council member from the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin, said in an interview at the Wells Fargo Center on Monday evening. "That passion is still there because Bernie made a significant efforts to reach out to over 90 tribal nations."

Earlier in the day, Stevens was among more than 100 Native delegates and allies who attended the first meeting of the Native American Council at the convention center in downtown Philadelphia. Many speakers took aim at real estate mogul Donald Trump, who officially secured his party's nomination at the Republican National Convention last week.

"The other person ... might really pull things backwards in a bad way," said Jodi Gillette, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe who served in the Obama administration.

Gillette and other Native Democrats cast the election as a way to continue the gains advanced by President Barack Obama. Since taking office in January 2009, he's hosted regular meetings with tribal leaders, emphasized consultation and appointed Native citizens to top positions. Both Clinton and Sanders embraced those goals in their respective platforms.

A delegation from the Puyallup Tribe of Washington offers an honoring song from "the beginning of the earth" as the first meeting of the Native American Council during the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on July 25, 2016. Photo by Indianz.Com

"In this administration the level of engagement in Indian Country has been higher than it's ever been," said Kim Teehee, a member of the Cherokee Nation who was the first person to serve as Senior Policy Advisor for Native American Affairs at the White House, a post created by the president.

Engagement with Indian Country is front and center in the 2016 Democratic platform. The document offers the strongest and most expansive language regarding indigenous people in the party's history.

The platform was written to "acknowledge the unique role that Indian Country plays in our nation's history, to affirm tribal sovereignty, to ensure that the American government does everything possible to support life on reservations and to support [Native] children," said Leah Daughtry, the CEO of the 2016 convention.

Daughtry said Native activists like Deborah Parker, a member of the Tulalip Tribes, have made sure that Indian Country is adequately represented at the convention. That includes small details like the daily prayers to bigger ones like a floor speech from Minnesota State Rep. Peggy Flanagan, a member of the White Earth Nation who is due to address delegates this week.

The Native American Council will meet again on Wednesday. The convention itself concludes on Thursday.

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