There is really no reason for a presidential candidate to spend much time on tribal issues in Iowa or New Hampshire. The problem is not the candidates; it’s the process itself. What if there were an Indian Country primary? This story originally aired on Feb. 25, 2019.
This is Trahant Reports.
The first time I saw a presidential candidate campaign in Indian Country was Jesse Jackson in 1984. He took the time to meet and speak with the Navajo Nation Council as well as campaign events in Window Rock and Shiprock. He did this because it was the right thing to do. But imagine if the Navajo Nation had a primary? What if early in the process, Jackson won those delegates and the conversation about his viability was matched with delegates that included Indian Country?
Presidential campaigns have already changed candidates. As I wrote in The Last Great Battle of the Indian Wars, Washington Sen. Henry Jackson went from being a longtime supporter of termination to a champion for self-determination and a primary sponsor of legislation to make that so. He did this about the same time he ran for president.
George McGovern wasn’t a strident supporter of tribes before he ran for president. But he was sure was after.
Indian Country should have a voice – and a primary that includes tribal voters would be an ideal forum.
Indian Country has an advantage that the United States needs, a young population. This is a perfect moment for education innovation — and that takes resources. The median age in the United States is 37.9 years and getting older with smaller family sizes. Indian Country’s median age is 31.2 years. There are 2.1 million American Indians and Alaska Natives under the age of 24. That is a constituency deserving a voice in picking the next president. (New Hampshire’s population is 1.3 million.)
There is really no reason for a candidate to spend much time on tribal issues in Iowa or New Hampshire. The problem is not the candidates; it’s the process itself. In the small meetings in small states these issues are just not likely to surface.
But that would change if there was an Indian Country primary.
How would this primary work? Every tribe has an election process of some kind. The Democratic and Republican parties could work with the tribes that choose to participate to come up with a voter list (imagine how potent that data would be) and then to manage how the results are calculated.
What a great statement a primary election could be. This would be the America of its own aspirations.
I am Mark Trahant.