Indian Country advocate heads up transition team for Hillary Clinton

Ken Salazar speaks at a meeting of the Native American Council during the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on July 27, 2016. Photo by Indianz.Com

The presidential election is still three months away but Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump are already making plans for the winner's eventual transition to the White House.

Indian Country will see a familiar face at the top of Clinton's team. The chair is Ken Salazar, a former Secretary of the Interior and former U.S. Senator from Colorado.

During his tenure at the Department of the Interior, Salazar took aim at a slew of negative policies that hurt Indian Country during the prior administration. Whether it was putting the land-into-trust process back on track, resolving tribal water disputes or settling the Cobell trust fund lawsuit, President Barack Obama was intent on starting a "new chapter and new beginning" for the first Americans, Salazar said at the Democratic National Convention last month.

Tribes can rely on Clinton to ensure tribes remain at the table if she wins the election, Salazar told the Native American Council at the convention. She's vowed to continue the annual White House Tribal Nations Conference and to appoint tribal citizens to top positions in her administration.

"We're at a critical time because whoever we do elect as president of the United States has a huge impact on the whole relationship with Indian Country," Salazar said at the council during its second meeting in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Trump has launched his transition team as well and it's headed up by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), a former rival in the Republican race. Unlike Salazar, Christie doesn't have much of a record on Indian issues, mainly due to the limited presence of tribes in the state.

But his administration has engaged in an unusual battle against the Ramapough Lunaape Nation and the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Tribal Nation, contending they lack recognition in the state despite prior acts by his predecessors and by state lawmakers.

In the past, Trump has questioned the legitimacy of the Ramapough Nation and tribal leaders blame the real estate mogul for derailing their bid for federal recognition.

In contrast to Clinton, Trump hasn't discussed Indian Country at all since the start of his campaign in June 2015. The Republican Party's platform includes a section on "Honoring Our Relationship with American Indians" but it failed to include any new policy goals and it was identical to the 2012 document with the exception of just one sentence.

Rep. Steve Pearce (R-New Mexico), left, and his wife, Cynthia, welcomed Republican vice presidential nominee Mike Pence and his wife, Karen, to New Mexico on August 16, 2016. Photo by Rep. Steve Pearce

Trump also missed an easy opportunity to offer some ideas for the first Americans when vice presidential nominee Mike Pence hosted a town hall at Sandia Pueblo in New Mexico on Wednesday. Although the event was the campaign's first foray in Indian Country, Pence didn't mention tribes at all or even bother to mention the historic setting.

Only a surrogate -- Rep. Steve Pearce (R-New Mexico), whose district includes a handful of reservations -- brought it up.

"The Native Americans in New Mexico are beginning to look at what they could have, not what they do have, and so Sandia, thank you very much," Pearce said to applause.

The obvious contrasts between the two campaigns have fueled a sense of urgency among Native Democrats. At the Democratic convention last month, during Native American Council meetings and on the main stage, speaker after speaker brought up Trump's use of Pocahontas as a slur and his past attacks on tribes.

"Because despite everything that has happened to our people, and no matter what Donald Trump says, we are still here," Minnesota State Rep. Peggy Flanagan, a member of the White Earth Nation, said in a speech on the main stage on the final night of the convention.

Polls compiled by RealClearPolitics show Clinton leading Trump in several key states and among the general population. Election forecasts from FiveThirtyEight, a site run by an influential statistician, and The New York Times predict a Democratic victory in November.

Indianz.Com at the 2016 Democratic National Convention:
Indian Country again shares stage on final night of Dem convention (7/29)
Native Democrats make urgent case for Hillary Clinton as president (7/28)
Indian Country shares spotlight at Democratic National Convention (7/27)
Recap: Native American Council at Democratic National Convention (7/27)
Indian Country makes presence known at Democratic convention (7/26)
Native American Council meets at Democratic National Convention (07/25)

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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