Elizabeth Warren Has A New Deal For Native America
Photo by Dominic Gwinn

Elizabeth Warren is doing her best to put together a comprehensive package of interlocking policies that could make the American economy and government fairer, more equitable, more kind, and just all around better. It's pretty damned impressive -- and on the whole, probably the most progressive set of policy reforms since the New Deal. For instance, take a look at her proposal for remaking policy concerning Native Americans and other indigenous Americans. It's frankly the most serious, comprehensive proposal we've ever seen for addressing the problems facing Tribal nations -- which is saying something in itself, since most candidates do well to even mention them as part of vague statements about minority groups in general. For most of American history, presidential involvement with Native people could be typified by that old photo of Calvin Coolidge stiffly wearing a suit and Lakota headdress.

The pity is, most coverage of Warren's detailed proposal will probably look like Politico's: the very briefest mention of its content with some solemn chin-stroking about whether it will be enough to overcome Warren's perceived weakness with Native Americans in the wake of her dumb DNA test, plus speculation on just how much mileage Donald Trump will get from the One Joke That Is Funnier Than Anything. The three Republicans who even read the proposal will complain Warren is merely promising Free Stuff to buy votes, which is only allowed when you're talking about oil and coal companies.

As a work of argumentation, Warren's proposal has a heavy lift: She and her policy team aren't just making a case for specific policies here; the document also has to persuade readers that Native American policy should be a major emphasis in a presidential campaign at all. And the proposal accomplishes both goals, calling attention to the shameful neglect of Tribal people by the government. The thing we love about Warren's campaign is its emphasis on progressive policies that will actually allow Americans to live up to their potential: Student loan forgiveness will free young people to be entrepreneurs and raise their kids. Rural development will keep small towns from disappearing. Universal healthcare, child care, and pre-K will be good for families and will boost the economy, because look at all those people who aren't freaking out about feeding and sheltering their kids -- they're free to buy both necessities and a treat. That desire to make America fair -- not again, because we've never been fair -- is at the heart of Warren's proposal for Tribal nations too.

It's a matter of very basic justice:

The story of America's mistreatment of American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians is a long and painful one, rooted in centuries of discrimination, neglect, greed, and violence. [...] Children literally stolen from communities in an effort to eradicate entire cultures. Native history is American history — and we must be honest about our government's responsibility in perpetuating these injustices for centuries.

And yet, despite this history, Tribal Nations and indigenous peoples have proven resilient and continue to contribute to a country that took so much and keeps asking for more. They serve in the United States military at higher rates than any other group in America. Each year, more and more Native people go to college and graduate school, and start businesses. Efforts to preserve Native cultures and languages are more prevalent and successful now then at any time in our nation's history.

And wow, what a set of proposals. As Politico points out, at "more than 9,000 words, the plan is more than double the length of any other proposal she's introduced." There's hardly any aspect of Native American policy the proposal leaves out, from education to healthcare to climate. And while she's at it, Warren calls for a wholesale change to how the nation handles its obligations to Tribal nations, which are, on paper at least, based on binding treaties between the US and sovereign governments. Citing reports from the US Commission on Civil Rights, Warren says,

[Funding] vital programs for Indian Country through the regular congressional appropriations process has resulted in chronic shortfalls, uncertainty, and overall funding levels far below what is necessary for the federal government to meet its obligations.

Those obligations aren't optional, says Warren, so Warren and congresswoman Deb Haaland (D-New Mexico) have proposed the Honoring Promises to Native Nations Act, one part of which which would remove certain programs from the annual appropriations process, with a guaranteed funding mechanism -- not unlike how the government currently funds Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. The exact outlines of the final legislation would be worked out in consultation with tribal leaders.

In addition, Warren has a raft of proposals to ensure Native concerns won't be left on the back burner, such as instituting a permanent "White House Council on Native American Affairs [...] whose chairperson has Cabinet-level status." Barack Obama established such a council, but Donald Trump let it die off, so Warren wants it to be put into law by Congress. She also calls for designated deputy secretaries for Native affairs in a number of Cabinet agencies, and a statutory commitment to consulting with Tribal representatives on federal policy that affects indigenous people.

Like several Warren policy papers, this one slots in pieces of other proposals she's made: Her economic development plan for Native America connects to her rural America plan, with infrastructure development, broadband internet, and green manufacturing. It also tracks with her housing plan, which already specified new and rehabbed housing in Tribal areas. At the same time, Warren acknowledges the particular challenges faced by indigenous communities, which have faced centuries of neglect at best, attempted genocide at worst. For instance, just getting clean water is a challenge:

Nearly 40% of homes in the Navajo Nation do not have access to running water, and the Indian Health Service (IHS) estimates that Native people lack access to safe drinking water at nine times higher rates than average.

And climate change is already endangering Native Alaskan communities -- as sea ice vanishes and sea levels rise, coastal villages may have to relocate altogether. What's impressive here is that Warren isn't proposing any sort of one-size-fits-all approach: Each section of the plan addresses particular, local needs, and calls for inclusion of Tribal leaders in implementing them. Yes, Medicare for All, but let's also strengthen the Indian Health Service and make sure the particular health needs of Native communities -- such as higher-than-average alcoholism, diabetes, heart disease -- are addressed. Free public college for everyone -- but also funding for programs to protect Native languages and to teach them to kids.

Warren's plan also addresses a fundamental inequity in law enforcement: She wants Congress to fix a huge injustice imposed by the Supreme Court's 1978 Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribe decision. That case meant that for the most part, Tribal courts just plain don't have jurisdiction over non-Indians in criminal cases, which has led to non-Native suspects getting away with horrible crimes, especially rapes, committed on reservation lands.

96% of Native female sexual assault victims have experienced violence at the hands of a non-Native person. Even where they are willing to do so, state and federal law enforcement authorities face several obstacles to investigating and prosecuting these offenses, such as the remote geography of many tribal areas, difficulties in producing witnesses, and limited resources. These circumstances effectively immunize crimes on Tribal lands, turning those lands into magnets for violent criminals, sex traffickers, and drug cartels who choose to prey on vulnerable populations.

In addition to giving jurisdiction -- with protection of due process for suspects -- to Tribal courts, Warren would fund Tribal police and justice systems so they can adequately fulfill that mandate.

Warren also calls for federal action to investigate and solve the crisis of murdered and missing Native women and girls:

This crisis affects Native women and girls everywhere — on reservations, in cities, and in rural communities. In 2016, according to the National Crime Information Center, 5,712 indigenous women and girls were reported missing. Native women and girls face disproportionate rates of domestic abuse and sexual violence, and 84% of indigenous women have experienced violence in their lifetime.

Among multiple proposals (there are bills waiting to go), Warren would put in place a Justice Department program, modeled on the Amber Alert system, aimed at alerting law enforcement and the public to missing women.

It's really an impressive document that has a hell of a lot more than we have room to discuss -- go read it! And dump a metaphorical milkshake on any idiot who dismisses it with a racist "Tomahawk Chop" gesture.

[Team Warren on Medium / Politico]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.


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