The late Frank LaMere, a citizen of the Winnebago Tribe, was a long-serving member of the Democratic National Committee. He is seen at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on July 27, 2016. It was his last party convention prior to his passing in June 2019. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Opinion: Progress for Democrats and Indian Country

Three Years of Progress for Democrats and Indian Country

A few years before he died, legendary Native American activist and the longest-serving DNC member Frank LaMere bought a journal with three words on the cover: “Make things happen.”

That call to action not only defined Frank’s life, but it also served as his guiding principle for what the Democratic Party needed to do to ensure the trust and support of Indian Country and begin winning elections again up and down the ballot. In the three years since being elected chair of the DNC, Tom Perez has done just that.

One of the very first decisions Chair Perez made was to change the status of the Native American Council to a Native American Caucus by appointing more Native American DNC members than ever. This has given our community a far greater voice in decision-making and a better outlet to organize tribal communities and Native voters across the country.

Chair Perez knows full well the organizing power of Native tribes. That’s why he’s made critical investments in organizing Native American voters. He understands that Republicans win by subtraction and Democrats win by addition. So as Republicans continue their effort to suppress the vote, the DNC has worked tirelessly to protect and uplift Native voters, resulting in record-breaking Native turnout.

In Alabama, with the support of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, the DNC helped elect Doug Jones as the state’s first Democratic U.S. senator in 25 years.

In Washington state, Chair Perez recognized that Native American voters would be critical to flipping the state Senate to give Democrats full control.

And in Kansas and New Mexico, the DNC’s support helped us reach a historic milestone: The first two Native American women elected to the United States Congress – Sharice Davids and Deb Haaland.

In addition to these victories, the DNC also made unprecedented progress in typically red states like South Dakota and Oklahoma thanks to its focus on Native organizing. And the stage is set for even greater progress this year across the country from Arizona to Florida, from Michigan to Nevada and Wisconsin.

The DNC is already laser-focused on engaging tribal leaders, registering tribal citizens – especially younger voters – to ensure we’re ready for elections up and down the ballot in 2020. And last fall, Chair Perez appointed former Tulalip Tribes board member Theresa Sheldon as the committee’s Native American Political Director.

Chair Perez’s leadership and advocacy on behalf of Indian Country has extended to the presidential contest as well. Over the past year, the DNC has helped facilitate several roundtable discussions between our caucus and leading candidates for the Democratic nomination.

The stakes could not be higher for Indian Country in this election. From undermining tribal sovereignty, to threatening our health care, to destroying our sacred sites and monuments, Donald Trump has been no friend to tribal communities. And his attacks on our land and our people will only worsen if he gets four more years in the White House. That’s why the DNC has spent the last three years preparing for this moment, and why we must organize Native communities like never before over the next eight months.

As labor secretary under President Obama, Chair Perez had already been a champion on so many issues that matter to our communities. So when he took over the DNC three years ago, we were confident in his commitment to Indian Country. That confidence wasn’t misplaced. Chair Perez has shown tremendous leadership and that the result is a stronger Democratic Party that effectively engages communities like ours.

Too often in Washington, tribes hear words that prove hollow commitments that go unfulfilled. Chair Perez’ actions have stood in stark contradistinction – he has followed through on his promises time and again. He has matched his words with action. And he hasn’t stayed behind his desk in DC, either. Chair Perez has traveled the country, engaging with our communities about the challenges we face and the progress we can work together to achieve.

The first words Frank wrote in that journal were simple: “Always seek justice and give voice to those who have none.” Those were Frank’s values. Those are the values of Indian Country. Those are the values of Tom Perez and the Democratic Party. And those are the values that will prevail on November 3.

Rion Ramirez, a citizen of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, Paulette Jordan, a citizen of the Coeur d'Alene Tribe; and Keith Harper, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, serve on the Native American Caucus within the Democratic National Committee.

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