Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), a participant in the Frank LaMere Native American Presidential Forum, holds up a placard to call attention to the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women. Photo: Global Indigenous Council

More 2020 presidential candidates line up for historic Native issues forum

The Frank LaMere Native American Presidential Forum continues to grow as more Democratic candidates reach out to Native voters early in the 2020 election cycle.

Elizabeth Warren, the U.S. Senator from Massachusetts, and Amy Klobuchar, the U.S. Senator from Minnesota, are the latest to join the event, organizers revealed on Monday. They will address issues of importance to the first Americans alongside the previously announced participants: Bernie Sanders, the U.S. Senator from Vermont, author Marianne Williamson; Steve Bullock, the governor of Montana, Julián Castro, a former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development; and John Delaney, a former U.S. Congressman from Maryland.

Additionally, independent candidate Mark Charles, a citizen of the Navajo Nation, will be attending the forum, named in honor of the late Frank LaMere, a prominent activist who passed away in June after dedicating his life to advancing Native causes. He lived in Sioux City, Iowa, a community with a thriving urban Indian population and one near the homelands and reservations of several tribes.

The forum is the first of 2020 presidential cycle to focus on Indian issues and it's the first of its kind in more than a decade Besides the LaMere connection, there's a reason it's being held in Iowa, one of the most critical early voting states.

“Via media outlets and streaming live video, candidates will speak to all of Indian Country,” said O.J. Semans, a citizen of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe who co-directs Four Directions, a primary organizer of the August 19-20 forum.

“We know candidates will be in Iowa for the State Fair just before our forum or at the Iowa AFL-CIO state convention the day after the forum," Semans added in reference to two events that typically attract several Democratic hopefuls.

"We hope the next president will find time to attend the forum," Semans said. "No doubt Iowa will be watching, but more important, this event is an historic opportunity to address millions of Native Americans.”

Elizabeth Warren's potential participation in the Frank LaMere Native American Presidential Forum was the subject of significant speculation on social media after Indianz.Com reported that she agreed to appear at a series of roundtables with tribal leaders last week in Detroit, Michigan, during the Democratic National Committee debates. Though she was enthusiastically received by the National Congress of American Indians in early 2018, her campaign stumbled later in the fall when she released the results of a DNA test which she said proved her claim of having Native ancestry.

During the organization's winter conference this year, NCAI President Jefferson Keel applauded the Cherokee Nation for the way it responded to Warren's assertions. "We’ve actually had a discussion and dialog about what tribal citizenship really is," he said.

While Warren did not address NCAI during the session -- instead choosing to participate in a private gathering hosted by Native women -- Keel offered praise for the presidential hopeful. "I believe she’s a great champion for Indian Country," he said.

"I admire her for what she’s done," added Keel, who is stepping down as lieutenant governor of the Chickasaw Nation, a tribe based in Warren's home state of Oklahoma, after serving in the post for more than 20 years.

Warren has since won an endorsement from a prominent figure in tribal circles. Rep. Deb Haaland (D-New Mexico), one of the first two Native women in Congress, called her a "great partner for Indian Country."

"She has made it a priority to address some of the most challenging issues facing working families, including an economy that works for everyone, student loan debt, and the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women," Haaland said of Warren, who has been a co-sponsor of legislation like Savanna's Act, a bill named in honor of Savanna Greywind, a Spirit Lake Nation woman who went missing and was murdered in 2017.

Amy Klobuchar is also a supporter of the measure, which requires the federal government to account for the numbers of missing and murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives the first time. She has served in the U.S. Senate since 2007 and pushed for inclusion of the landmark tribal jurisdiction provisions in the 2013 version of the Violence Against Women Act.

“We stood up for tribal rights,” Klobuchar said at the U.S. Capitol in May, citing the pressure Indian Country placed on Congress six years ago in order to address high rates of victimization in tribal communities.

In 2017, Klobuchar cited tribal sovereignty in refusing to support the nomination of Jeff Sessions to be President Donald Trump's Attorney General. When he served in the Senate, he opposed the jurisdiction provisions of VAWA and he refused to say whether he'd enforce them as head of the Department of Justice.

"I've had so many tribes in my state that have had trouble getting anyone to prosecute their cases, and we simply allowed for dual jurisdiction when someone committed an act of violence that wasn't a member of the tribe," Klobuchar said. "That didn't make sense to me."

More recently, she opposed the nomination of Eric Miller, one of Trump's judicial nominees because he has repeatedly worked for clients who have tried to undermine Indian rights. Despite the concerns, he was confirmed to a seat on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which hears cases affecting hundreds of tribal governments in several Western states and in Alaska.

“I believe we need judges, particularly on the 9th Circuit that respect the history and contribution of tribal nations, not one that seeks to undermine their sovereign status," Klobuchar said in February.

The #MMIW crisis and safety for Native women are some of the reasons why Semans and other partners are hosting the Frank LaMere Native American Presidential Forum. He said panels of tribal leaders and Native youth will be asking the participants about their stances and records on these critical issues.

“We’re working to ensure the next president of the United States understands and is committed to addressing the issue of violence against Native American women," said Semans. In addition to Four Directions, the Native Organizers Alliance is serving as host of the forum.

Global Indigenous Council: Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women

Lynnette Grey Bull, a citizen of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, agreed with the need to advance issues facing Native women. She serves as senior vice president of the Global Indigenous Council, one of several co-hosts of the forum.

"The MMIW issue is older than America, but 243 years after the colonists’ Declaration of Independence we’re still waiting for the United States Government to address the epidemic," said Grey Bull. "Recently, our legislative recommendations received bipartisan support from prominent members of the House and Senate, yet we are still waiting for meaningful legislation to be passed.

The Global Indigenous Council was created by the Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Association, another co-host of the forum. Fellow co-hosts include the National Congress of American Indians, the Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council, the Native American Rights Fund, the Coalition of Large Tribes, the Midwest Alliance of Sovereign Tribes and the United South and Eastern Tribes.

The Coushatta Tribe, based in Louisiana, will be the "Lead Premier" sponsor for the event while the NDN Collective has joined as "Lead Underwriting" sponsor. Tom Rodgers, a citizen of the Blackfeet Nation and founder of the Carlyle Consulting firm, has joined as "Lead Stage" sponsor.

Mark Trahant, a citizen of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes who serves as the editor of Indian Country Today, is scheduled to moderate the forum at the Orpheum Theatre in Sioux City. Tickets can be purchased online for a nominal fee.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-New Jersey), another 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, holds up a placard to call attention to the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women. Photo: Global Indigenous Council

Join the Conversation

Related Stories
Aaron Payment: Candidates must understand and respect tribal sovereignty (July 31, 2019)
Tribal leaders grill 2020 Democratic presidential candidates on Indian issues (July 30, 2019)
Candidates make first major play for Native vote in 2020 presidential race (July 25, 2019)
Trending in News
More Headlines