Native Democrats make urgent case for Hillary Clinton as president

Frank LaMere, a member of the Winnebago Tribe, at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on July 27, 2016. Photo by Indianz.Com

Native activists and Native Democrats mounted urgent defenses of Hillary Clinton on Wednesday, warning of disaster should Republican rival Donald Trump win the 2016 presidential election.

Even passionate supporters of Bernie Sanders are vowing to help elect Clinton. While some remain upset that their candidate of choice did not secure the party's nomination, they said Indian Country must stand together to defeat a candidate who has a negative record when it comes to tribal matters, whether it's questioning the identity of indigenous peoples, attacking the integrity of the Indian gaming industry or furthering stereotypes about Native women.

"I barely consider myself a Democrat," author and youth advocate Gyasi Ross, a member of the Blackfeet Nation, said at the final meeting of the Native American Council at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on Wednesday morning.

"But I understand there is a person in this equation who will hurt my community," Ross said of Trump. "I understand that there is a person who will hurt other brown people and other poor people, because he said he would."

From left, Gyasi Ross, Raina Thiele and Ed Miele at a panel discussion during the Native American Council at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on July 27, 2016. Photo by Indianz.Com

Frank LaMere, a member of the Winnebago Tribe, was equally forceful. The longtime Democratic activist is one of three Native citizens in the state of Nebraska's delegation to the convention.

"We need to stand up to this bully," LaMere said in an interview on the floor of the Wells Fargo Center on Wednesday afternoon. "Donald Trump is dangerous to America and probably even more dangerous to Native America."

"It is incumbent that we come away from here and get Hillary Clinton elected," added LaMere, who has attended eight Democratic conventions.

Despite the strong warnings, Native Democrats acknowledged they are facing an uphill battle as they try to rally Indian Country to turn out to the polls this year. While Clinton, a former Secretary of State and a former U.S. Senator from New York, won endorsements from elected tribal leaders, Native voters often went with Sanders, the Senator from Vermont.

Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), the permanent chair of the Democratic National Convention, oversees the nomination of Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Virginia) as vice president on July 27, 2016. Photo by Indianz.Com

In Washington, nearly every prominent tribal leader backed Clinton ahead of the state's primary in March, yet Sanders easily won the vote. In South Dakota, Native voters overwhelmingly supported Sanders even though their elected officials endorsed Clinton.

Yvette Joseph, a member of the Colville Tribes, said she is trying to get Sanders supporters on her reservation in Washington to join Clinton's camp. She fears many of them won't register or turn out for the election without a well-organized get out the vote operation in Indian Country.

"I'm arguing with tribal members back home because they are very unhappy about the outcome of the Bernie or Hillary [primary race]," said Joseph, who is a delegate for the state of Washington. "We're trying to convince them -- If you go in and support a Green Party candidate, you're not going to get us to victory."

If not enough Native voters support Clinton, "we're going to be defeated -- terribly so," said Joseph, who's attended five Democratic conventions.

President Barack Obama embraces Hillary Clinton at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on July 27, 2016. Photo by Indianz.Com

The concerns are real as Sanders supporters feel bothered by what they see as mistreatment of their favored candidate by the party's leadership. Brandon Stevens, a council member for the Oneida Nation, said Democratic National Committee emails that were released by hackers explain why some Native voters remain wary of Clinton.

Some of the messages show party officials, who are otherwise supposed to remain neutral, making negative statements about Sanders. Their contents forced the resignation of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Florida) as chair of the DNC, whose leaders offered an apology to Sanders.

"It was weighted against Bernie," Stevens, a pledged Sanders delegate for the state of Wisconsin, said of the Democratic primary process.

But beyond procedural issues, Stevens said Native voters embraced Sanders for substantive reasons. He said Sanders paid far more attention to Indian Country than Clinton, who is due to accept the party's nomination at the conclusion of the convention on Thursday evening.

"It's a tell-tale sign," Stevens said in an interview at the Wells Fargo Center. "She's not coming out to meet us," he said of Clinton.

Despite dissension in the ranks, Native delegates and other Native attendees at the DNC remain strongly supportive of President Barack Obama. In her policy platform, Clinton has vowed to continue his agenda by ensuring tribal nations remain at the table.

"I see Americans of every party, every background, every faith who believe that we are stronger together – black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American; young and old; gay, straight, men, women, folks with disabilities, all pledging allegiance, under the same proud flag, to this big, bold country that we love," Obama said in a well-received speech at the convention on Wednesday night.

"That’s the America I know. And there is only one candidate in this race who believes in that future, and has devoted her life to it; a mother and grandmother who’d do anything to help our children thrive; a leader with real plans to break down barriers, blast through glass ceilings, and widen the circle of opportunity to every single American – the next President of the United States, Hillary Clinton," he said to loud applause. Clinton joined him on the stage after the speech.

The final day of the convention will include remarks by Minnesota State Rep. Peggy Flanagan, a member of the White Earth Nation. She is expected to speak around 4:50pm Eastern.

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