Predominantly white towns that border large American Indian reservations can be racially charged places. It is difficult for residents to face the historical atrocities and heal as a community. In a small city in Minnesota’s north woods, Natives and their non-Native allies have been working for 50 years to do just that. Join us as we hear their stories in the documentary Rocking the Boat: the Story of Changing Race Relations in Bemidji, Minnesota. It’s a special report from Minnesota Native News brought to you by Native Voice One.
Indian Country cannot afford to close the door to Republicans in Congress and in state legislatures, especially those Native Americans who have been elected to office.
This is Trahant Reports.
There are two tribal citizens serving in Congress: Representatives Tom Cole, a member of the Chickasaw Nation, and Markwayne Mullin, a member of the Cherokee Nation. There are at least ten Native American Republicans serving in state legislatures (compared to 51 Democrats). They operate in seven states.
Not all the elected Native American Republicans make tribal issues any sort of priority. Minnesota Rep. Steve Green, for example, does not include tribal membership in his biography or in his campaign literature.
However most of the Native American Republicans who are elected to office also engage in Native policy issues before state legislatures, including support for enhancing tribal languages, teaching Native history, and expanding or limiting tribal jurisdiction, voting rights, and, soon, to shape the next version of health care reform.
One shared trait of the Native Americans who are elected as Republicans is support fossil fuel energy development.
But even that idea of energy development gets more complicated in Indian Country. As Alaska state Sen. Lyman Hoffman reports on his biography page: “Every Alaskan deserves affordable energy. As a resource rich state (oil, gas, wind, and tidal), our state should and could, harness all of this energy to benefit all of its citizens.”
But many of these same communities, especially in rural Alaska, are at the global warming front where more money will soon be required to build sea walls, fight more fires, or even relocate entire villages.
It’s easy to find the issues where Native American Democrats and Republicans disagree. Indeed, it would be simple for me to shape every commentary as doom and gloom, the logic of “Oh, what is Trump going to do next?” But that won’t help the policy debates that are so important to Indian Country. And that idea discounts how much agreement there is out there — even in this hyper-partisan climate.
One example of a Native American issue that cuts across party lines is unfolding in Wyoming. The Indian Education for All, House Bill 76, would require the state’s schools to educate all children about the history and economic contributions by the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho Tribes.
Sen. Affie Ellis was just elected in November is a co-sponsor of the legislation. She’s a Navajo who grew up in Wyoming. She told the Casper Star-Tribune that Native American students sometimes are threatened by verbal abuse during sports trips across the state. She said, quote, Star-Tribune: “It’s a really important first step to understanding each other a little bit better.”
I am Mark Trahant.