Government

Presidential candidates in Iowa forum support rescinding Wounded Knee medals

Sioux City event focused on Native American issues drew nine Democratic hopefuls

Mark Charles, 2020 independent presidential hopeful and citizen of the Navajo Nation, speaks during the second day of the Frank LaMere Native American Presidential Forum held Tuesday at the Orpheum Theatre in Sioux City. Charles said the 425 Medals of Honor given to U.S. soldiers after attacks in places where Natives lived, “to complete manifest destiny,” should be rescinded. (Tim Hynds/Sioux City Journal)
Mark Charles, 2020 independent presidential hopeful and citizen of the Navajo Nation, speaks during the second day of the Frank LaMere Native American Presidential Forum held Tuesday at the Orpheum Theatre in Sioux City. Charles said the 425 Medals of Honor given to U.S. soldiers after attacks in places where Natives lived, “to complete manifest destiny,” should be rescinded. (Tim Hynds/Sioux City Journal)

SIOUX CITY — A group of six 2020 presidential candidates Tuesday weighed in on issues of importance to Native Americans in a Sioux City forum, and a Native man led off the lineup, giving an extended summary of how white government leaders in the 19th century broke treaties and forcibly moved tribes westward.

“He was dropping knowledge on people,” a woman was overheard saying in the lobby of the downtown Orpheum Theatre, at the conclusion of remarks by presidential candidate Mark Charles, a member of the Navajo Nation.

In a continuing topic of discussion Tuesday, many candidates said 20 Medals of Honor given to U.S. soldiers at the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890 should be rescinded. That incident led to the deaths of more than 200 Native Americans in South Dakota.

Charles went further, noting that through all military attacks in places where Natives lived, a total of 425 Medals of Honor were given to soldiers. He said all those medals, given after attacks “to complete manifest destiny,” should be rescinded.

Charles said that by the 1860s, President “Abraham Lincoln has ethnically cleansed” the Upper Midwest.

After a combined 10 presidential candidates — nine Democrats and Charles as the sole independent — spoke over the last two days, the Frank LaMere Native American Presidential Forum wrapped up Tuesday, in the downtown Orpheum Theatre.

Four Directions, a Native American voting rights organization based in Mission, South Dakota, was the primary sponsor of the forum. Organizers billed the forum as the first of its kind for Native American issues, and there was substantial participation both days by people who journeyed from many states.

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O.J. Semans, co-executive director of Four Directions, in a break between candidates on the stage Tuesday, urged people to keep prodding presidential candidates in upcoming months to give detailed answers on Native issues.

“Don’t let this movement that we have here die ... Keep that momentum going, ask questions,” Semans said.

The forum was named for the late Frank LaMere, a Native American activist from South Sioux City who died of cancer earlier this year.

Democratic candidates who took part Monday were Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, Marianne Williamson and Steve Bullock.

The Tuesday group of Democratic candidates included Julian Castro, Bernie Sanders and John Delaney, with Kamala Harris and Bill de Blasio joining the forum via teleconference.

John Delaney

Delaney, a former congressman from Maryland, said Native people have insufficient health care options. He said his plan to enact universal health care “that everyone would get as a basic human right” would prove helpful to Native Americans.

Delaney said pharmaceutical companies are responsible, given aggressive sales tactics, for the growing problems of opioid addictions and overdose deaths.

“It starts with making sure these pharmaceutical firms are held responsible, full stop. ... They knew exactly what they were doing,” Delaney said.

Kamala Harris

Harris, a U.S. senator and former attorney general of California, cited many national court cases that have affected the rights of Native Americans.

She said she has witnessed the negative effect of the 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act, or ICWA, as many children have been taken from parents and adopted overwhelmingly by white parents. That law’s impact on adoptions has been ruled on in two lower court decisions in the last year, and could be headed toward the U.S. Supreme Court.

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“As attorney general, I led the ICWA issue as a civil rights issue ... ICWA doesn’t matter if we don’t enforce it,” Harris said.

Harris noted that in California she created a Bureau of Children’s Justice in 2015, to ensure the proper treatment of children in custody and other legal matters.

“They should not be lost in the system,” she said.

She also spoke about the need to protect waterways and lands from the negative impact of climate change.

Julian Castro

Castro is a former mayor of San Antonio, Texas, and a former U.S. secretary of housing and urban development. Castro answered a few questions concerning the aging and inadequate housing stock for Natives, including many on reservations.

“The deepest poverty I ever saw as HUD secretary was in the Pine Ridge (Indian) Reservation (in South Dakota) ... For so many indigenous communities, the housing is old,” Castro said.

He has called for $2.5 billion in HUD investments to increase the housing stock in tribal communities and to repair existing homes. Castro said that money ideally would be distributed via community block grants.

Castro also answered a question about immigration policy related to indigenous people. He said the administration of President Donald Trump, who was invited to the forum, uses extreme practices when it comes to immigration law enforcement.

“I would stop putting children on concrete floors ... They don’t have to be cruel like that,” he said.

Bernie Sanders

Sanders, a U.S. senator from Vermont, spoke at length about addressing climate change, in a period he said has resulted in shrinking ice caps, rising water on coasts and the warmest month ever recorded, just last month in July. He said Native people have a tradition of living in harmony with nature, so they are alarmed at the changes.

“It is threatening the entire planet. It concerns me very much that we have a president who considers climate change a hoax,” Sanders said.

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Janet Davis, who serves on the Pyramid Lake Tribal Council in Nevada, said she is upset over limited voting places, with only two on a reservation in that state. Sanders said such actions are designed by politicians controlled by wealthy people to suppress voting, particularly by people of color.

“You’ve got a Republican Party who really understands they cannot win elections based on their policies ... We are going to take on voter suppression in all its forms,” Sanders said.

Bill de Blasio

De Blasio, the mayor of New York City, noted he represents a city with a diverse population, including many Native Americans. He said he doesn’t support sports team mascots that depict Native Americans.

“It’s divisive. It’s racist. It’s outmoded,” De Blasio said.

He opposes fracking — a method of extracting oil and natural gas from the earth through high-pressure injection of water, sand and chemicals into the ground — in Indian Country.

“I’m someone who opposes fracking across the board,” the mayor said.

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