"I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions. But laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors." - Thomas Jefferson (appears in the Jefferson Memorial)

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It’s tempting to think of Indian Country as a “singular” voice. The vast majority of Native Americans agree that the United States should live up to its treaty promises. Most of us think that tribes are the best mechanism for governing our lands and people (all the while watching a steady stream of our citizens moving from reservations to cities and towns across America). And, we share a deep respect for the land, Mother Earth. Add it up and it shows that if we all vote together, our voices will represent a powerful bloc.

Except, that is, when we disagree.

That should not be a surprise. The phrase “tribal politics” earns an instant nod from folks who understand that Native people have the same divisions – philosophical, tribal, and familial – that surface in any governing structure. Generations ago this was an easy problem to resolve: Leaders who found themselves in a minority, just left camp, and followed their own way. Today tribal people who have different ideas about the future live and work in the community and use elections to determine the governing coalition.

Perhaps the greatest division within Indian Country is the debate about the environment and the extraction of natural resources. There are Native people on all sides of this question and it’s already an election issue.

Earlier this month the Crow Nation announced that some tribal employees “will have to be furloughed for some time during this quarter.” A Facebook post quoted Chairman Darrin Old Coyote saying that “because of revenues reduced by the Obama’s “War on Coal,” we are faced with a shortfall to our operating budget under the general fund. Our Cabinet Head and Directors are faced with reducing their budget to make it through this quarter. We do have funds out there but, will not be available in time. As a result, there will be wage reductions, and other steps taken to make sure the furlough will not last long.”

Crow is rich with coal – one estimate shows a reserve of 17 billion tons – and it’s the primary source of tribal revenue as well as jobs for more than 13,000 tribal members. Last year Old Coyote told a Senate hearing in Montana: “I simply desire for the Crow Nation to become self-sufficient by developing its own coal resources and to provide basic services for the health, hopes and future of the Crow people. With help from you – our historic treaty ally – in leveling the energy development playing field, we can achieve my vision and both benefit immensely.”

Obama might get the blame, but the coal industry has been collapsing on its own. Its use as an energy source in the United States is being replaced by natural gas which is both cheaper and cleaner. That leaves China as the major market for coal. But China is giving up on coal too. A report by Clark Williams-Derry from the environmental think-tank Sightline sums it up this way: “Many folks still believe that China has an unlimited appetite for coal and that the country’s industries and power plants would be delighted to buy any and all coal we send their way. But in reality, China’s coal consumption peaked in 2013, fell by about 3 percent in 2014, and fell another 4 to 5 percent over the first 11 months of 2015. All told, China’s cutbacks have totaled some 300 million tons per year—the equivalent of one-third of total coal output in the US, the world’s second largest coal producer. So while China still has a huge appetite for coal, the country has slimmed down impressively.”

The sharp decline in the Chinese stock market will likely speed up this trend.

But proponents of coal continue to promote plans that would make it easier for coal to reach Asia. Cloud Peak Energy Company has the option to lease 1.4 billion tons of coal from Crow lands. That company, and the Crow Nation, are investors in two new shipping terminals in Washington state. If completed, this would be the biggest coal export terminal in North America and account for nearly 500 sailings of ships transporting coal to Asia.

Northwest tribes are adamantly opposed to the terminal. Swinomish Chairman Brian Cladoosby told The Seattle Times last week: “Coal is black death … There is no mitigation.” He and other tribal leaders say that the project would be a clear violation of treaty fishing rights. Cladoosby is president of the National Congress of American Indians which in a 2012 resolution called for a full, transparent environmental review.

Then again, as The Times put it: “Burning coal creates pollution that harms human health and the environment. In addition to particulates, burning coal generates more carbon dioxide emissions than any other fuel, implicated as the number one source of human-caused climate change.”

The politics of coal remain a dividing line in U.S. and tribal politics. The Obama administration has stepped up environmental regulations of coal and just last week the Interior Department announced a review of coal leasing on federal lands.

“Given serious concerns raised about the federal coal program, we’re taking the prudent step to hit pause on approving significant new leases so that decisions about those leases can benefit from the recommendations that come out of the review,” said Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. “During this time, companies can continue production activities on the large reserves of recoverable coal they have under lease, and we’ll make accommodations in the event of emergency circumstances to ensure this pause will have no material impact on the nation’s ability to meet its power generation needs. We are undertaking this effort with full consideration of the importance of maintaining reliable and affordable energy for American families and businesses, as well other federal programs and policies.”

This action comes at a moment where there is a worldwide push to leave coal and other carbon-based resources in the ground as a way to hit the UN targets limiting C02 emissions. New data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says nearly 90 percent of the world’s coal is “unburnable.” Coal is considered the most polluting type of fossil fuel.

“The implication is that any fossil fuels that would take us over-budget will have to be left in the ground,” writes Roz Pidcock for CarbonBrief. “Globally this equates to 88 percent of the world’s known coal reserves, 52 percent of gas and 35 percent of oil.”

So the tribal bets on coal are coming at a bad time, both in terms of market-prices and meeting international agreements to reduce emissions. Neither the Congress nor a future president can change this fact. Markets are not going to suddenly come back for coal and the rest of the world has already made a decision about the future of energy.

Of course, the Crow are not the only tribal government or Alaska Native corporation that’s sees a future in coal. The Navajo Nation purchased a coal mine in 2014. And the Tyonek Native Corporation has plans to develop the Chuitna Coal project with the PacRim Coal Company. The village corporation favors the project, while the Tyonek Native village, a tribal government, is opposed because of the mining’s impact on rivers, salmon and the community.

The impact of climate change is a huge concern for many tribes. But even before climate change the Northern Cheyenne – also a coal rich tribe – decided on a different route.

During the 1970s and 1980s, the Northern Cheyenne demanded that its trustee block leases with Peabody Coal. Then the Northern Cheyenne successfully set higher air quality standards. According to the Bureau of Land Management: “The Tribe became concerned that, because of prevailing wind patterns, air pollution from these massive plants would pollute the Reservation airshed. Under prevailing legal standards, the powerplant was not obliged to minimize such pollution … The Tribe decided to become the first unit of government in the Nation – Federal, state, local or tribal – to voluntarily raise the air quality standard within its territory to the most pristine standard under law. Specifically, the Tribal Council moved to raise the Reservation air quality standard to the highest permitted by law – Class I – a standard which theretofore applied only to National Parks and Wilderness Areas.”

When I was a young reporter, during the late 1970s, I had several interviews with the late Alan Rowland who was then Northern Cheyenne’s chairman. He joked that you cannot breathe money. He said clean air and water were essential to his tribe’ health. Jobs come and go, but not water or air. When I think back, it’s almost as if Rowland saw the challenges of climate change ahead.

Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports

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It’s easy to get confused by this year’s campaign for president. If you get information from watching television or from Internet rumblings, you might think Republicans are driving toward a massive victory. And why not? Donald Trump packs thousands of people into every one of his rallies and the television ratings for G.O.P. debates are ginormous. So this must be the Republican year, right?

The problem with that narrative is that it misses the demographic shift that’s been occurring in America.

Fact is any Republican candidate for president starts off in a deep hole. To win a candidate will have to erase a structural deficit. Sure, it’s possible, but it’s also growing more unlikely because of the tone coming from the 2016 campaign so far. Why the deep hole? When Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980 the population of the United States was 80 percent white. Today it’s about 63 percent white.

One demographic profile of voters by The National Journal shows how dramatically the country has changed since Reagan’s landslide. He won with the support 56 percent of white voters in 1980. “But in 2012, when non­white voters ac­coun­ted for 28 per­cent of the elect­or­ate, Mitt Rom­ney took 59 per­cent of white voters—and lost the pres­id­en­tial race by 4 per­cent­age points. Without a total brand makeover, how can Re­pub­lic­ans ex­pect to pre­vail with an even more di­verse electorate in 2016?”

The country’s diversity trend is just beginning. The U.S. Census reports that American Indians and Alaska Natives grew 1.4 percent since 2013, compared to 0.5 percent for whites. “Even more diverse than millennials are the youngest Americans: those younger than 5 years old. In 2014, this group became majority-minority for the first time, with 50.2 percent being part of a minority race or ethnic group,” the Census said. So in 13 years the majority of new voters will be people of color and in twenty-five years a majority of all voters.
The GOP’s demographic challenge

The Republicans have a long term problem.

“Based on estimates of the composition of the 2016 electorate, if the next GOP nominee wins the same share of the white vote as Mitt Romney won in 2012 (59 percent), he or she would need to win 30 percent of the nonwhite vote,” Dan Balz recently wrote in The Washington Post. “Set against recent history, that is a daunting obstacle. Romney won only 17 percent of nonwhite voters in 2012. John McCain won 19 percent in 2008. George W. Bush won 26 percent in 2004.”

It’s important to remember, however, that presidential elections are 50 separate state elections that determine the electoral college vote. So discount every poll you see that compares one Republican versus one Democrat. Instead think: Which states?

And it’s in these state contests where the American Indians and Alaska Native voters are becoming more important, especially as part of a coalition.

Nevada is a good place to start examining these trends. In 2012, Nevada voters were about 65 percent white. Next year’s voters are projected to drop to about 60 percent. So it will be possible to build a winning coalition made up of some white voters (a third or so) plus significant majorities from Latino, African American, Asian American and Native Americans.

Other states where such coalitions are possible: Alaska, Arizona, Wisconsin, and, eventually, Oklahoma.

The web site Five Thirty Eight has a nifty electronic interactive calculator that lets you project election scenarios. What happens if more minority voters turn out? Think landslide. More important: Break down the Republican constituencies and see where that party’s strength comes from. “Whites without college degrees are now the bedrock of the Republican coalition: They voted for Mitt Romney 62 percent to 36 percent in 2012,” Five Thirty Eight reports. “However, their share of the electorate is rapidly shrinking: They skew older and more rural, and we project that their share of the national vote will fall to 33 percent in 2016, down from 36 percent in 2012. Nonetheless, they still factor heavily in battleground states such as Iowa, New Hampshire, Ohio and Wisconsin.”

What’s striking about this election so far is that the Republican candidates are not trying to build a coalition with minority voters, young voters, or even fix the gender gap that’s been a problem for decades. Millennials are now the largest age group – some 90 million people – and are more independent than previous generations. Most millennials lean toward the Democrats, but even those who say they are Republican see the world very differently than today’s Republican candidates. Pew Research Center found: “The generational divisions among Republicans span different dimensions of political values. Some of the most striking generational differences within Republicans concern social issues like homosexuality and immigration, but younger Republicans are also less conservative when it comes to values related to the environment, role of government, the social safety net and the marketplace.”

So as we enter 2016 it’s important to discount the news coming from the campaign. It’s going to be a crazy year with all sorts of scenarios possible ranging from fights at the conventions to third-party runs. Sure, it’s even possible, that one of the Republican candidates will whip up magic and unite a coalition of voters. But that would take words designed to reach consensus with the new majority of voters. There will be another GOP debate Tuesday. (I will be live tweeting.) Watch and see if even one candidate recognizes that the road to the White House is red, brown, black and young.

Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports

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At least 73 American Indians, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians serve in 17 state legislatures.

This is important for a couple of reasons.

First, if you look at the body of work of these state senators and representatives, you’ll find them advocating for better services, more funding and improving relationships between tribal nations and state governments. Second, state offices are a source of talent for higher elective posts, ranging from Congress to the White House. Remember it was in only 1996 when Barack Obama was elected to the Illinois state Senate.

Montana best demonstrates the growing influence of Native American voters.

Denise Juneau, the state’s superintendent of public instruction, is currently running for the U.S. House of Representatives. She’s a member of the Mandan and Hidatsa Tribes and grew up in Browning, Montana, in the Blackfeet Nation. Juneau has a political track record. She’s already won two state-wide contests so she knows what it takes to win a House seat.

This is how U.S. politics often works: A candidate wins at the state level, does a good a job, and then she moves on to Congress (or is appointed to a federal post, such as Secretary of Education).

The Montana story is richer than Juneau alone. Some twenty years ago, Montana was much like any other state with a significant Native American population with only one or two Native Americans serving in the legislature. Then Native American candidate won in 1997. And again in 2003. And by 2007 Native Americans in Montana reached ten seats in the legislature; representing 6.6 percent of that body. Montana’s population is 7.4 percent Native American. Today there are 3 Native Americans in the Senate and 5 in the House, some 5.3 percent of the state legislature.

To put the Montana percentage in national terms: If Congress were 5.3 percent Native American, there would be 5 U.S. Senators and 21 members of the House. Even if you adjust for population, the number of Native American members of Congress would have to more than double to equal the representation in Montana.

It’s telling that when Brookings Institution researched the historical demographics for members of Congress it did not even bother to measure Native Americans. There are two tribal members currently serving in Congress and, so far, this election season, there are at least seven Native American candidates for Congress.

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Events in Canada this week show why elections matter. Yes there will be better policies put in place: Perhaps a return to government-to-government relations with First Nations; more federal investment in Indigenous education; and, a serious, nationwide probe of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. All those things show a government moving in the right direction.

But there is something else: tone. The music of elections.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivered the message that Aboriginal Canadians are significant intellectual contributors to Canada’s political discourse. Trudeau’s appointments, his first day of images, really set a high bar for what hope elections can stir in communities, including those representing First Nations, Inuit and Metis.

Most of us are surrounded by a narrative that says real shared power takes a long time. We have to move slow, methodically, bringing people along.

But that’s not what happened in Canada. Trudeau’s appointments were like a lightening bolt. In one instant the cabinet of Canada is representative of gender, of region, and, of Aboriginal people. When he was asked, “why?” about gender, the prime minister replied, “because it’s 2015.”

Assembly of First Nations Chief Perry Bellegarde told the CBC that Trudeau’s appointments begin a “new era of reconciliation.”

“I was very impressed with the opening ceremony, but even more impressed that out of eight aboriginal members of Parliament that were elected, two have made it into cabinet,” said Bellegarde. “It sends a powerful statement about inclusion and it sends a powerful statement about the reconciliation that is going to be required in rebuilding a new relationship between Canada and Indigenous Peoples.”

The new minister of Justice and Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould shows how a government can match diversity with extraordinary talent and experience. Much has been said about the attorney general’s role as a regional tribal chief and as an advocate for reconciliation with Aboriginal people. But she’s also been British Columbia crown prosecutor. The fact is she’s extraordinarily well qualified for this post. Wilson-Raybould is a member of the We Wai Kai Nation and a descendant of the Musgamagw Tsawataineuk and Laich-Kwil-Tach peoples, which are part of the Kwakwaa’wakw and also known as the Kwak’wala speaking peoples. When she was a child, her father said it was her goal to be Prime Minister.

That same richness of experience is true for the new minister of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Hunter Tootoo. Yes, he is Inuit and has a track record on issues such as economic development or housing. But he also was Speaker of the Nunavut Legislative Assembly.

The Tyee in Vancouver quoted Aaron Hill of the Watershed Watch Salmon Society saying Tootoo’s appointment could mean a “seismic shift” in Canada’s approach to First Nations fisheries.

Imagine what these kinds of appointments would be like in the United States: A leader of a fishing tribe named to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Or a tribal judge or attorney as the next United States Attorney General. Lightening bolt.

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Canada’s election was one for the history books: A third-place Liberal party won enough seats to form a government; Aboriginal voters cast so many ballots that in some areas they ran out; and across the country people demanded a reversal of a decade of Conservative policies.

Not that elections fix everything. In Canada, like the U.S., there is no ideal representation for Native voters. One phrase I heard on Aboriginal People’s Television Network last night summed it up well: A lesser of three evils. (Canada has five major parties, three of them with a chance of forming a government.) And, like the U.S., Canada’s elections are not exactly democratic. More about that shortly.

Aboriginal voters appeared to have turned out in record numbers, electing ten Native people to Parliament (up from seven). But if that sounds like a lot, consider this sentence from the Canadian Broadcasting Service: “While there were a record 54 indigenous candidates running in this election, Indigenous people will end up occupying just three per cent of the 338 seats in the House of Commons.” Of course that compares to the United States where the two American Indians in Congress make up 0.37 percent of that body. At least in Canada there are enough Aboriginal voices to form a caucus; there’s the potential to raise voices for and against significant pieces of legislation and budgets.

That brings me to Lesson One from Canada: You gotta run to win.

As the Indigenous Politics blog pointed out there were 54 First Nation, Metis and Inuit candidates running nationwide. The New Democratic Party had the most, 22 candidates, and only two of those candidates won seats, Georgina Jolibois, Dene, in Saskatchewan, and Romeo Saganash, Cree, in Quebec.

So apply this lesson to the United States. What if we had candidates running in every state where there is a significant population of American Indians and Alaska Natives? Start with Alaska’s only congressional district, the seat held by Don Young. I know it’s been done before. But there should be a Native face of opposition running for that seat every election. Same for Arizona’s first congressional district and on and on. Oklahoma. Montana. New Mexico. South Dakota. North Dakota. Washington. Oregon. California. You can’t win without a candidate. Indian Country needs more candidates for key races as well as for some of the unlikely districts.

Just from a tactical point of view the Liberals did this brilliantly. Five years ago the party was all but dead. As a piece from CTV News said in 2011: “Canada’s Liberals were arguably the most successful political party in Western democracy in the 20th century. They are starting the 21st century on the cusp of irrelevance at best, and facing extinction at worst.”

You gotta run to win.

Second lesson from Canada. Yes, mainstream politics do matter. I know, and respect, the argument that Native people should stay out of general politics. That’s there is no difference between any of the parties. Factually that is not true. The Conservative Party under Stephen Harper is a textbook case showing the problem with that premise. First Nations were only “consulted” when there was already an agreement for more resource extraction. If the answer was no, well, that was ignored. And, when there was a widespread demand for a government inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls the answer was a hostile no. The new government will not be perfect but it will be good. And the new government will at least investigate and try to do something about the epidemic of violence against Native women.

One powerful story that Canada has is that of Elijah Harper. More than anyone else the late member of the Manitoba provincial legislature showed what one vote could do, ending a constitutional process that would not have served First Nations.

Third lesson from Canada. Turnout is key. Again, as pointed out often, if Aboriginal voters had voted in previous elections there would not have been a Conservative government. Not voting is a powerful statement. It’s the same in the United States. American Indian and Alaska Natives are pretty good voters during presidential election years; then we disappear. That’s backwards. We’d have far more pull in a low turnout, off-cycle national election. Of course if we have fifty-something candidates running for Congress, that could change for the better.

The fourth lesson from Canada. Elections are not the end of the process, but they do offer a new beginning. The Liberal Party has many strengths but it’s probably not going to be the leader on climate change, stopping the Keystone XL pipeline, or even rethinking energy in a big way. Like U.S. Democrats there is a lot of corporate influence and money that’s directed their way. (I think market forces will kill Keystone anyway.) But all that means is you keep pushing. Elections are only one step.

You gotta keep running to win.

And the final lesson? Canada like the United States needs a better democracy. This election is considered a huge win for Liberals. But they only won 39.5 percent of the vote. The Conservatives had 31.9 percent and the New Democrats earned 19.7 percent. The Green Party captured 3.5 percent — and yet only ended up with one seat. (That’s not as bad as the U.S. where Republicans won 52 percent of the votes for the House, controlling 57 percent of the seats.) The reason for this in both countries is the district system or first past the post. It’s a system that most of the world has rejected in favor of elections that are more representative of all the citizens in a country.

If Canada’s elections, for example had been held in a system with proportional representation, today the Liberals and the New Democrats would be working together to try and form a government. Then that would be a government that would actually represent most Canadians. We can’t have that. It would scare the hell out of Washington.

Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes.On Twitter @TrahantReports

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Once again Congress is finding it impossible to pass spending bills — and time is running out. The federal government appropriates money and runs its programs from October 1st through the end of September. The House and the Senate are supposed to enact appropriations and then pass on that legislation to the president for his signature.

That is how it is supposed to work.

But the entire process is chaotic. Think of Congress this way. There are really three-parties in the House and in the Senate; Republicans (the party in charge), Democrats and Tea Party supporters. It’s this third group who are holding up the budget by saying “no.” Congress could get out of this by letting Republicans work with Democrats on moderate spending bills — something that does happen in state Legislatures from time to time. And that might be the smartest route ahead. (It would likely mean the political career of Speaker John Boehner would be over. But it’s not a bad legacy to step out by doing the right thing.)

There are several issues dividing Congress ranging from the amount of debt the country has (think of a credit card limit) to how much money flows from government checks to Planned Parenthood.

That last item is the big one. Some conservative members of Congress say they will not support any budget that includes Planned Parenthood after a series of videos that purported to show the selling of baby parts.

But Planned Parenthood does many other things — such as distribution of birth control pills — and federal money already cannot be used for abortion. So it’s unlikely the president will agree to any budget that doesn’t continue funding women’s health programs and that includes Planned Parenthood. What’s more the whole controversy has been one-sided, there a case to be made that Planned Parenthood’s actions save lives. The issue is far more about abortion politics than it is about fetal tissue.

Back to the shutdown. Pretty much everyone in Washington says they do not want a government shutdown. But there is really no incentive to get beyond those words. Budget expert Stan Collender recently wrote in Politico magazine that there is a seventy-five percent chance of a shutdown. “First and foremost, there is not enough time to reach a deal. Not only have none of the fiscal 2016 appropriations yet been signed into law, none have even passed both the House and Senate. With less than two calendar weeks (and far fewer days of potential legislative work) to go, the only way to keep the government from shutting down will be for Congress and the president to agree on a continuing resolution to fund the government for a short time while a larger deal is negotiated,” he wrote. But then there is that Planned Parenthood debate — and staunch opposition to even a short-term spending bill.

Not only that but a temporary spending bill could cause additional problems. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities says a Continuing Resolution would lock in spending cuts demanded by the sequestration law. “The only real fix is for policymakers to agree to provide relief from the sequestration cuts now scheduled for 2016, offsetting the cuts with alternate deficit reduction measures, as they did on a bipartisan basis in 2013, and then to enact regular appropriations legislation for 2016 (even if combined into one or more omnibus packages). As long as the current sequestration limits remain in place, no amount of re-arranging the pieces within an inadequate total will allow for necessary funding levels to reflect new priorities, new conditions, or rising costs,” the Center said.

We know that closing down government, even briefly, is rough.Two years ago the government closed from October 1 through October 16, 2013. Some 800,000 employees were furloughed and another 1.3 million had to work without pay.

Across Indian Country a government shutdown not only impacts federal employees, but it means tribes have less money and have to lay off employees as well. Two years ago, Indian Country Today Media Network reported that Montana’s Crow Tribe had to lay off some 300 people as well as closing essential reservation programs. Even some health clinics (which are supposed to be protected) had to close temporarily.

Native American organizations have been pushing for an idea to fund health, and perhaps tribal schools, a year in advance. That would be smart. Then when Congress cannot do its job, at least Indian Country won’t have to suffer needlessly. But Congress didn’t get around to that idea either.

One thing for sure: Government shutdowns cost a lot of money. The last tab was about $24 billion.

So here we go again with another waste of time and money.

Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. For up-to-the-minute posts, download the free Trahant Reports app for your smart phone or tablet.

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Tired of hearing about Hillary Clinton’s email server? Donald Trump’s obnoxious phrase of the week? Or Rand Paul argue the benefits of assimilation to American Indians and Alaska Natives? So much nonsense.

Yet this week is the unofficial start to the 2016 campaign. So we’ll be getting more debates, more absurd policy pronouncements and more theater.

And at the same time as the election contest picks up, we’ll also be witnessing a new round of idiocy from the United States Congress.

Congress has about three weeks left to fund the government. As President Barack Obama said over the holiday weekend: “As always, the deadline for Congress to pass a budget is the end of September. Every year. This is not new. And if they don’t, they’ll shut down the government for the second time in two years. At a time when the global economy faces headwinds and America’s economy is a relative bright spot in the world, a shutdown of our government would be wildly irresponsible. It would be an unforced error that saps the momentum we’ve worked so hard to build. Plain and simple, a shutdown would hurt working Americans.”

This makes no sense because Indian Country will be disproportionately impacted by a government shutdown. I’ll have more to say about that soon.

But let’s swing back to the political season because the only way to improve Congress is to elect new people. We need members of Congress who are willing to be politicians and govern by making choices about the options ahead.

We should start by focusing where there are the most Native Americans: Arizona’s First Congressional District. There are twelve tribes located within this district, including the Arizona side of the Navajo Nation. (Navajo doesn’t have quite enough people for its own district, even if you include Utah and New Mexico.

Arizona’s first congressional district is the nearest thing to an American Indian majority district. (Arizona did all it could to prevent Native Americans from voting. It’s only been since 1970 when a court opened up election rolls.) The population of the district is 724,868; and 23.2 percent of that is American Indian. Four years ago that number was about 22 percent and unless the district lines change, those numbers will continue to rise.

Two Native women have already run for this seat, Mary Kim Titla in 2008 and Wenona Benally Baldenegro in 2012. Titla, San Carlos Apache, is now the executive director of the tribal youth organization, UNITY, INC. Baldenegro is a Navajo and a Harvard-educated attorney.

Both lost in the primary – and that’s the challenge for this district.

Statewide only 11.9 percent of those eligible cast ballots (and less than 29 percent of registered voters). But if the Native vote could turnout in higher numbers during primary elections, then the results will be different. That sentence is easy to write, and yet so difficult to do.

However in last the general election Native voters did turnout successfully. Some ten million dollars were spent trying to win this “swing” district for Republicans. It was the top House district for so-called “dark” money or third-party spending that ran mostly negative ads. Two groups alone spent roughly $2.6 million supporting Republicans, the American Action Network and Young Guns Network. But big money lost. The Native vote trumped and Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick won re-election by rolling up significant margins in precincts with Native voters in Apache and Navajo counties.

However Kirkpatrick’s win stirs another issue and that’s the disappointment many feel after she supported the sneaky transfer of forest land for the Rio Tinto mine. (She’s now running for the U.S. Senate; Sen. John McCain is running for reelection and he engineered the mine transfer by attaching it to a must-pass bill.)

And that’s exactly why a Native candidate is needed. It will take about 35,000 votes to win the primary next August and probably about 120,000 votes to succeed in the general election.

Expect a lot of candidates to run because it’s an open seat. Roll Call lists the Arizona district as one of thirty “toss up” seats. There should also also be a long list of American Indian candidates for this race, there are lots of people who could put together the resources to win. This is the ideal moment for Arizona’s tribal communities to have a representative in Congress – and so every obstacle should be removed to make this so.

It’s time.

Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. For up-to-the-minute posts, download the free Trahant Reports app for your smart phone or tablet.

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What do you do with sixteen candidates? It’s a thorny problem for Republicans. Why’s that? Because right now one of those candidates, Donald Trump, is loud enough to drown out all the other “major” candidates.

Wouldn’t it be fun if the nomination contest was more like a basketball tournament? Then top-seeded Donald Trump would battle 16th seed Ohio Gov. John Kasich a battle of ideas. Or how about dropping the bunch in the jungle Naked and Afraid. We could even start voting and eliminate a candidate every week, until it’s just the Republican versus a Democrat.

Enough. Back to the chaos. And Donald Trump.

As The Washington Post put it on Sunday: “For yet another week, Trump talk dominated the Sunday morning political shows, with several devoting roundtable discussions to his disruption of the GOP presidential primary and at least two of his GOP rivals using their clashes with him in recent days as a means of securing interviews on the shows — during which they continued to clash with him.”

On August 6 in Cleveland the first debate is set, an opportunity to raise serious issues. As if. It’s more likely that it will be Trump versus the other nine candidates tossing one liners back and forth.

Of course American Indian and Alaska Native issues don’t get attention this early anyway. Usually that happens late in the campaigns, during the general election, when a position paper is released that outlines the candidate’s official policy. That’s too bad. It would be good to press candidates from both parties about how they see treaties, the federal-Indian relationship, and the management of federal programs that serve Native Americans.

Then again it’s pretty clear where most stand. The Tea Party wing of the Republicans — Trump, Marco Rubio, Scott Walker, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, and Rand Paul — would dramatically cut federal spending. Paul has even called for the elimination of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and drastic cuts at the Indian Health Service. If any of this happened, the Sequester would be the Good Old Days.

Even a self-described serious candidate, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, suggests its time to reshape government. A few days ago in Tallahassee, he said that as governor he used a hiring freeze to shrink state government. He suggested the same approach would work in Washington where only one employee could be hired for every three who retire or leave government service. Bush also said it ought to be easier to fire federal employees. “There are a lot of exemplary employees in the federal government, but they’re treated no better than the bad ones,” he said. “The bad ones are almost impossible to effectively discipline or remove.”

Candidate Kasich was chairman of the House Budget Committee when President Bill Clinton declared the “era of big government is over.” That suited Kasich then. And now. One proposal at the time was to “reinvent” the Bureau of Indian Affairs with a block grant program. “The reinvented Bureau of Indian Affairs would provide block grants, rather than engaging in the direct provision of services or the direct supervision of tribal activities,” the House proposal said. This “would reduce the central office operations of the BIA by 50 percent and eliminate funding for the Navajo and western Oklahoma area offices. It would eliminate technical assistance of Indian enterprises, through which technical assistance for economic enterprises is provided by contracts with the private sector or with other Federal agencies.” Congress would have ended direct loans and reduce loan guarantees.

The Republicans running for president all share contempt for the Affordable Care Act (and most don’t know that would include the provisions of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act.) All are also supportive of more development, such as the Keystone XL pipeline, and generally dismissive of any action to limit climate change.

I don’t know. I’m still partial to a Naked and Afraid competition.

Mark Trahant is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. For up-to-the-minute posts, download the free Trahant Reports app for your smart phone or tablet.

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The federal appropriations process may at its most convoluted point ever. A case in point: The Interior Appropriations bill was pulled from consideration by the leadership of Congress on July 9. That’s the spending bill that includes funding for the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Indian Health Service.

Why? The debate wasn’t about money — even though that is an issue — but because some Southern Representatives are keen on protecting the Confederate Flag from being banned on federal land.

Really.

At the same moment when South Carolina was debating, and then lowering the battle flag from state grounds, Democrats successfully included language to remove the flag from federal facilities including National Parks. Republican leaders (no doubt seeing their fellow legislators at work) quickly agreed and the measure passed on a voice vote.

That should have been the end of the story. There isn’t a lot of support anywhere for the Confederate Flag these days.

Except in Congress.

Roll Call reported that “a number” of Southern Republicans demanded that leadership reverse that flag measure and were more than willing to cast no votes against Interior Appropriations — and possibly all 12 spending bills.

Who would ever have thought the Confederate Flag could be the controversy that stops spending on federal Indian programs? What’s next, a resolution on the Washington NFL team interrupting agricultural programs? Seriously this is messed up but it’s a good example of how dysfunctional the Congress is right now.

lewisconfederateflag

The U.S. Congress works best in a framework of two parties: Federalists challenging the Anti-federalists; Whigs against the Democrat-Republicans; and, mostly, Democrats versus Republicans. But now Congress is really three distinct parties: Democrats, Republicans and the Tea Party. This has happened before with the rise of the Radical Republicans around the Civil War. It was chaos then — and now.

A three-way split in the House means that Speaker John Boehner has essentially two choices. He can accept the Tea Party ideas as mainstream ones or he can produce legislation (and especially a budget) that’s centrist enough to win Democratic votes. The speaker’s goal is 218 votes — an impossible number when Republicans are divided.

That’s why Tea Party support for the Confederate Flag is not easy to dismiss because the rest of the budget is so radical that it cannot pass without that faction’s support.

As Norman Ornstein, a congressional scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, told Talking Points Memo: “What it means is he has to accommodate people he would really rather not accommodate. And what happened in this case of course he didn’t have the votes and several southern Republicans basically said, ‘You want our votes? You’re going to have to do something on the Confederate flag.’”

Then the prospect for this year’s Appropriations bills was already risky before last week’s blow up. The Obama Administration has been pressing Congress for a broader spending package that would lift the strict spending caps that are in place because of the four-year-old Budget Control Act. And Congress has pushed back by loading up the now stalled appropriations bills with poison pills, such as prohibitions that limit federal agencies from doing their jobs. (Read this: the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.)

But federal spending will have to wait until the flag issue is resolved on Capitol Hill. As Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia, said last week, “When I was marching a across that bridge in Selma in 1965, I saw some of the law officers, sheriff’s deputies, waring on their helmet the Confederate flag. I don’t want to go back, and as a country, we cannot go back.”

Mark Trahant is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. For up-to-the-minute posts, download the free Trahant Reports app for your smart phone or tablet.

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Dozens of people, tribal leaders, public officials (including Yukon’s premier and the area’s Member of Parliament) gathered around a fire in a prayer circle. It’s the solstice, the longest day of the year, and National Aboriginal Day. For nearly two decades, Canadians have celebrated June 21 as a national holiday to honor the Inuit, First Nations and Metis people.

“For me, National Aboriginal Day is a day of celebration, acknowledgment, and remembrance,” said Jessie Dawson, a councilor with the Kwanlin Dun First Nation Government.

Especially this year. The recent Truth and Reconciliation Commission report chronicled what it termed as Canada’s physical, biological, and cultural genocide against Aboriginal people. Yet the report said: “Despite the coercive measures that the government adopted, it failed to achieve its policy goals. Although Aboriginal peoples and cultures have been badly damaged, they continue to exist. Aboriginal people have refused to surrender their identity.”

Dawson said that “report represents a break through in time and a new day for our people. It calls on our citizens to make peace. It gives us hope and a restored faith that appropriate measures will be taken.”

It’s that very debate, about what is “an appropriate measure” that Canada has yet to conclude. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission proposes one standard: “Reconciliation is about establishing and maintaining a mutually respectful relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples in this country.”

On Friday, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police updated its report on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, saying that while Aboriginal women make up 4.3 percent of the population, they account for 16 percent of all female homicide victims. The federal policy agency once again said the overwhelming majority of those murders stemmed from family violence.

However First Nations advocates say the report is not broad enough because it does not include statistics from municipal governments.
“All jurisdictions need to look at what they can do to ensure that Indigenous women and girls are safe and secure,” Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief Cameron Alexis said in a news release. “We need a national inquiry to get to the root causes and find long-term solutions, and we need immediate action to ensure they’re safe now. All municipal and accredited police services in this country including the military police need to work together on Aboriginal policing issues such as missing and murdered Aboriginal women.”

That again begs the question about appropriate measures as Canada’s Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper has dismissed calls for any national inquiry. But federal elections are coming in October. The leader of the New Democratic Party, Tom Mulcair, tweeted:”On #NationalAboriginalDay, the #NDP stands w/ Canada’s Indigenous peoples to celebrate & work towards a better future.” The Liberal Party, too, has demanded action. Its leader, Justin Trudeau, said “Harper is on the wrong side of history. This issue requires national leadership and action to put an end to this violence.”

A three-party election will be an interesting one to watch — as well as how and where Aboriginal voters participate. In a recent provincial election, Alberta voters tossed out the Conservatives after a 44-year run. According to the Aboriginal People’s Television Network, a high number of Aboriginal voters turned out for the New Democratic Party. The new premier, Rachel Motley, is promising a stronger partnership with Aboriginal people. (The big question in any three-way election is can any party win a majority? In nations around the world, multi-party elections mean that governing coalitions must be formed, something that’s rare in Canada.)

Back to Aboriginal Day and why it matters. It’s true that holidays are often dismissed as merely days off. It’s too easy to forget why there’s a Veterans’ Day or especially a Labor Day. It’s true that Canadians are no different — as is this holiday.

But National Aboriginal Day does have the potential to change the conversation. On Saturday, for example, a Aboriginal Day Live broadcast from Winnipeg and Edmonton showcased the incredible wealth of native talent. Thousands of people attended the concerts and shows and more than a million people watched on television (and tweeted their reactions).

That’s not bad. Perhaps every year more people will be inspired by the native artists who are raising issues that celebrate, acknowledge, and remember, the Aboriginal place in modern Canada.

It’s also an idea worth emulating in the United States. It would be fantastic if for a moment, even for a single day, we were defined by our remarkable talent, and not our challenges.

Mark Trahant is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. For up-to-the-minute posts, download the free Trahant Reports app for your smart phone or tablet.

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