As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread throughout the nation, we’re aware that it could have an outsized impact on Indian Country. Relief programs may not provide needed tests and medical supplies for us — or anyone — on an appropriate scale. Please know we are monitoring this, and as my colleague Chase Iron Eyes mentioned a few days ago, we’ll keep you updated on developments. May we all stay safe and healthy.
In the meantime, I write with some wonderful news. Just yesterday, Standing Rock won a big victory in the ongoing legal battle against the Dakota Access pipeline when a federal judge granted the tribe’s request to strike down DAPL’s federal permits!
The judge ruled that Trump’s Army Corps of Engineers must complete a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) — the much more comprehensive review we’ve all been demanding since the beginning of this movement (and that President Obama required, only to be reversed by Trump). The Corps fell short in three specific ways, according to the judge.
First, the Corps failed to respond adequately to claims by the tribe’s experts that DAPL’s leak detection system is wholly inadequate. Second, the company’s dreadful history of oil spills wasn’t properly addressed. Finally, the oil company failed to account for the adverse repercussions a “worst case discharge” might have on our treaty rights — our ability to hunt, fish, and perform traditional religious ceremonies near Lake Oahe, which the pipeline crosses under.
I was asked by the tribal chairman to represent Standing Rock’s interests at the hearing in Washington, D.C., but I couldn’t go because of Coronavirus travel restrictions. I’m gratified that, despite our troubles, we have been victorious, at least for now.
The logic of the judge’s ruling suggests the pipeline should not remain operational without a federal permit. The ruling actually references both the Titanic and Chernobyl concerning the possibility of human error, and I’m hopeful shutting down the flow will be the judge’s next step. He has now requested legal briefs on that issue.
Please stay tuned, as we hope to share more good news soon. In the meantime, stay safe and please listen to the medical professionals with knowledge about the requirements of this pandemic. We’re all in this together.
Wopila tanka — as always, we’re so grateful to you for standing with Standing Rock and Mother Earth.
Standing Rock Organizer
The Lakota People’s Law Project
Lakota People’s Law Project
547 South 7th Street #149
Bismarck, ND 58504-5859
The Lakota People’s Law Project is part of the Romero Institute, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) law and policy center. All donations are tax-deductible.
Thousands of water protectors and allies spent weeks at the Oceti Sakowin camp in North Dakota in 2016 to protest the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. (Photo: Reuters)
A federal judge handed down a major victory for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe of North Dakota on Wednesday, ruling that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers violated the National Environmental Policy Act by approving federal permits for the Dakota Access Pipeline.
The USACE must complete a full environmental impact study of the pipeline, including full consideration of concerns presented by the Standing Rock Tribe, the judge ruled. The tribe has asked the court to ultimately shut the pipeline down.
The court chastised the USACE for moving ahead with affirming the permits in 2016 and allowing the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) crossing the Missouri River after President Donald Trump assumed office in 2017, without considering the expert analysis put forward by the tribe.
“After years of commitment to defending our water and earth, we welcome this news of a significant legal win. It’s humbling to see how actions we took four years ago to defend our ancestral homeland continue to inspire national conversations about how our choices ultimately affect this planet.”
—Mike Faith, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe
The Standing Rock Sioux had raised concerns regarding the likelihood and danger of potential oil spills, DAPL’s leak-detection system, and the safety record of Sunoco Logistics, the company behind the pipeline. Sunoco “has experienced 276 incidents resulting in over $53 million in property damage from 2006 to 2016” and has “one of the lowest performing safety records of any operator in the industry,” the tribe’s experts found.
The federal ruling “validates everything the Tribe has been saying all along about the risk of oil spills to the people of Standing Rock,” said Earthjustice attorney Jan Hasselman in a statement. “The Obama administration had it right when it moved to deny the permits in 2016, and this is the second time the court has ruled that the government ran afoul of environmental laws when it permitted this pipeline. We will continue to see this through until DAPL has finally been shut down.”
DAPL and the fight against the pipeline was the subject of international attention in 2016 when thousands of water defenders gathered at camps in North Dakota, facing a highly militarized police force armed with tanks, riot gear, rubber bullets, and other weapons.
Since Trump reversed former President Barack Obama’s December 2016 order denying the permits and allowed the construction to be completed in June 2017, the tribe has challenged the permits and demanded the USACE conduct a full environmental analysis.
Wednesday’s ruling represented a “huge victory” for the tribe, 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben tweeted.
“Such thanks to all who fight!” he wrote.
“After years of commitment to defending our water and earth, we welcome this news of a significant legal win,” said Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairman Mike Faith. “It’s humbling to see how actions we took four years ago to defend our ancestral homeland continue to inspire national conversations about how our choices ultimately affect this planet. Perhaps in the wake of this court ruling the federal government will begin to catch on, too, starting by actually listening to us when we voice our concerns.”
Others on social media celebrated the victory and applauded the “tireless efforts” of the campaigners, with the East Bay Democratic Socialists of America calling the decision the “absolute best possible outcome” of the court battle.
“This is why we never stop fighting,” Earthjustice president Abbie Dillen said.
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First and foremost, I hope that you are staying safe and healthy. At this critical moment for our shared society, it’s more important than ever that we look out for one another — even as we are asked to keep our distance. Right now, the Lakota People’s Law Project has staff stationed at Standing Rock, Pine Ridge, and Cheyenne River. We are talking to tribal leaders about ways we can support them in essential work, even while they create emergency plans to respond to the spread of COVID-19. We will keep you updated.
Meanwhile, I write to share with you today about an inspirational partnership that has yielded three wonderful outcomes at Pine Ridge: four college scholarships for Native American girls, the planting of at least 7,000 trees on the reservation, and a new way to support Native artisans.
Henry Red Cloud, pictured here, has planted over 110,000 trees with the help of a volunteer team. Picture courtesy of inourhands.love.
For some time now, the Lakota People’s Law Project has enjoyed dedicated support from the good people at Nomadics Tipi Makers. Like LPLP, Jeb and Nicole, who run the company, are always looking for ways to best support Native communities. As time has passed, we have deepened our connection with them and shared ideas.
As part of that, we’ve helped network them with others in the community. One such connection is with Henry Red Cloud — who, like our own Phyllis Young, is a MIT Solve Laureate. He is a visionary environmental leader at Pine Ridge who installs solar around the reservation and plants trees to restore sacred sites and provide increased access to fresh fruit for our people. With his company, Red Cloud Renewable, Henry has facilitated a (literally) fruitful partnership by agreeing to work with Nomadics to plant one tree for every tipi pole the company sells — with all expenses for the project covered by Nomadics.
Jeb and Nicole’s commitment to providing sustained support to Native people also includes the establishment of a $20,000 per year scholarship fund — $5,000 each for four young Native American women to attend Oglala Lakota College on the Pine Ridge Reservation. The first round of scholarship money is already headed to young women at Pine Ridge.
Finally, Jeb and Nicole have also found a great way to provide resources to Native artists at Pine Ridge by collaborating with them to paint tipi covers with personal, authentic artwork. Nomadics will send tipi covers to the artists and will pay forward to the reservation 100 percent of the artwork price as charged to individual customers.
These measures to bring support and health to Pine Ridge take on extra meaning at a time like the present. As we all hunker down for what looks to be a challenging road ahead, know that your support of the Lakota People’s Law Project has helped facilitate some extremely positive connections that will matter greatly, both right now for local artists and into the future for our young people and our reservation as a whole.
Wopila — Thank you, as always, and please stay safe and well!
Chase Iron Eyes
The Lakota People’s Law Project
After four days of meetings between Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Carolyn Bennett and British Columbia Indigenous Relations Minister Scott Fraser, an agreement appears to be reached to acknowledge Wet’suwet’en traditional leaders as rights holders over their territory.
The dispute over the Coastal GasLink pipeline isn’t over by any means — the majority of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs still oppose the project and the agreement must be presented to their nation — but this is the first step to reconcile what had become a national stalemate between traditional Indigenous peoples and the Canadian state.
The implications of Canada and B.C. recognizing a traditional Indigenous government are enormous. This not only ratifies the 1997 Supreme Court Delgamuukw decision (which also determined the Wet’suwet’en hold title over 22,000 square kilometres of territory) but opens the doorway for First Nations traditional forms of government — virtually gutting one of the most central tenets of the Indian Act: the Chief and Council system.
Now, Canada and B.C. must invite the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs to treaty negotiations over land. The future role of the Wet’suwet’en Indian Act chiefs and councils — most of whom signed “benefit agreements” to receive money and jobs as a result of the pipeline — is now uncertain.
In fact, the future of the Indian Act may be in doubt too. For decades, consecutive federal governments have promised to remove the 148 year-old legislation intended to assimilate “Indians” into Canada. Now, pressure will be on as some First Nations may refuse to govern themselves according to the chief and council model. This, above the pipeline project itself, may be the lasting legacy of Sunday’s agreement.
Recognizing Indigenous traditional governments also represents an ironic moment where Canada and B.C. will follow the “rule of law.” Not only did the Supreme Court recognize Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs in 1997 but last November the province of BC unanimously adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples via Bill 41, “The Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act.”
If B.C. follows through on implementing the Declaration, they must reconcile that Indigenous peoples “have the right to self-determination” (Article 3), “have the right to autonomy or self-government” (Article 4), and “the right to maintain and strengthen their distinct political, legal, economic, social, and cultural institutions, while retaining their right to participate fully, if they so choose, in the political, economic, social, and cultural life of the State” (Article 5).
In this, Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs may have shown Canada what reconciliation could look like.
The immediate question though is what’s this mean for the Coastal GasLink pipeline? The agreement doesn’t address that question directly and Coastal GasLink announced Sunday “construction will resume.”
Well Canada’s “duty to consult” under section 35 of the constitution is fulfilled, this will end in the courts.
This could be found through B.C.’s Bill 41, which directs the provincial government to appoint a member of the B.C. cabinet to “negotiate and enter into an agreement with an Indigenous governing body” over any use of Indigenous lands and resources, with the purpose to obtain “the consent of the Indigenous governing body before the exercise of a statutory power of decision.”
These negotiations could even include Indian Act chiefs and councils — appeasing political opponents and even some Wet’suwet’en who believe in them — but this will take time, energy, and resources. This may be exactly what Canada, B.C., and the Wet’suwet’en need — as cooler and calmer airs will likely be found.
Time, however, may be up for the Coastal GasLink’s $6.6-billion 670-kilometre pipeline project (190 kilometres cross Wet’suwet’en territory).
The cost of building the project is already exponentially increasing and if an alternative route is agreed upon this will add hundreds of millions more. Meanwhile, the price of oil and gas is dropping (especially with the coronavirus), the pipeline will consume a huge share of B.C.’s carbon budget, and fracking for gas and the burning of fossil fuels are lacking wide-scale public support.
Soon, the only argument for the pipeline will be within the subsidies, grants, and commitments Canada gives to the corporate sector — who will, in the end, choose profits over the jobs and money the project promises.
Sunday’s agreement may have come from discord, blockades, and a loss of investment but may result in a new relationship with Indigenous nations, the law being followed, and long-term savings due to the cancellation of an unsustainable project with much fewer benefits than advertised.
The journey may be worthwhile but the path was divisive — and it didn’t need to be.
One hundred miles to the west of the proposed mine site is Bristol Bay, home to the largest sockeye salmon fishery
Governmental agencies and tribes are reviewing a proposal to develop a huge mine in Alaska. The Pebble project would be the largest mine in North America and one of largest in the world. The open pit mine would be 2,500 feet, or 7.5 city blocks, long, and 13,000 feet, or 229 stories, deep. The project would include a transportation corridor, a port, a natural gas pipeline, and a heap of waste rock, or tailings, that reach 700 feet, or 64 stories, high.
It will take a large mine to dig up and process massive amounts of rock containing small amounts of valuable minerals. To get at the precious metals, which are valued at $345 to $500 billion, more than a billion tons of ore would be processed at the rate of 180,000 tons per day for 20 years. The Pebble Limited Partnership estimates the proposed site holds 67 million ounces of gold, 50 billion pounds of copper, and 3.3 billion pounds of molybdenum.
One hundred miles to the west of the proposed mine site is Bristol Bay, home to the largest sockeye salmon fishery. The fish return annually to the region’s multitude of rivers, lakes, streams and estuaries to spawn then die.
Alaska Natives have relied on salmon for thousands of years. It’s a major source of protein, and the mainstay of a way of life. The Yup’ik culture in the area has long revolved around fishing and sharing and preserving the harvest. The fishery is now also important to the thousands of people involved in the commercial harvest of salmon. In 2019, commercial fishermen harvested 43 million sockeye salmon valued at $306.7 million, the most in the history of the Bristol Bay fishery.
Seventeen miles from the proposed Pebble mine site is the village of Iliamna, with a population of 109. Leaders there want a seat at the table but remain neutral on the Pebble project itself. Fishermen, tribes, and other villages have come out in opposition. Among other issues, they’re concerned contaminated wastewater will seep through porous soils to the rivers that support salmon.
The prospect of the Pebble mine going forward worries Iliamna villager Louise Anelon, Yup’ik. “There’s a lot of things to worry about for me, as somebody that’s just so used to how it’s going, to how it is right now versus this project and all this noise and people and moving a lot of ground,” Anelon said. “Water could be affected and it’s just lots to worry about for me.”
Plus she said Pebble is coming on top of the effects of climate change: hotter, windier weather; fewer caribou; and late salmon runs. Analon said, “There’s a lot of stuff happening that we can’t see to the eye.
“Then we have this Pebble thing that’s potentially going to happen and that’s a two-time whammy,” Analon said. “I just am afraid for that to happen with so many changes already happening …. we know it’s going to be giving jobs to folks but it’s going to change our land, water, everything, forever. So that’s just my concern right there.
Still, Analon understands the position of many mine supporters. “No job opportunities, I think that’s what most of the folks out here are seeing,” Analon said.
On Feb. 6, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is coordinating review of the permit applications, issued a preliminary final Environmental Impact Statement for a 45-day review period. This impact statement builds on and responds to comments made on a draft issued by the Corps last year. The preliminary final environmental impact statement was sent to regulatory agencies and tribes; it is not available to the public or the media.
Public interest in the Pebble project is high, and the amount of public input is enormous. Some 105,000 comments on the draft environmental impact statement were submitted. The list of agencies with oversight is long. And criticism of the draft environmental impact statement was widespread.
Some of the phrases about the draft environmental impact statement that cropped up in agency comments include: “lacks certain critical information,” or “substantial deficiencies and data gaps,” “provides inadequate support for several assumptions,” “underestimates impacts,” “would benefit from being corrected, strengthened or revised.”
One even calls the draft environmental impact statement “so inadequate as to preclude meaningful analysis.”
Under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971, title to land was transferred to Native corporations to make money and issue dividends to shareholders. It’s unusual for a Native corporation to oppose resource development. Yet, the Alaska Native for-profit Bristol Bay Native Corporation came out in opposition to the proposed Pebble mine.
It said the proposal is flawed and deficient, but “… enough is known about the potential impacts of the proposed Pebble Mine project to conclude that it cannot be constructed in a way that would not cause significant adverse effects to Bristol bay and its fisheries.” Moreover, the project would “pose too great a risk to our Native way of life and the cultural, subsistence, economic, and ecological resources of the Bristol Bay Region.”
The Native corporation went on to say that it will “not extend to the Pebble Limited Partnership any permission to occupy or trespass our lands or make use of our subsurface resources.”
The rider said adverse impacts to Alaska’s world-class salmon fishery and to the ecosystem of Bristol Bay, Alaska, are unacceptable. The rider stated all the gaps and deficiencies in the draft environmental statement must be addressed. Otherwise, it encouraged agencies to “exercise their discretionary authorities, which include EPA’s enforcement authority under the Clean Water Act, at an appropriate time in the permitting process to ensure the full protection of the region.”
U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, speaking during a Bristol Bay Salmon Week celebration in Washington on Sept. 18, 2019 said if the agencies are unable to address the concerns, then a permit should not be issued. “What we all need to be able to believe is that the science that drives the process can be trusted,” she said, “whether it is this for this project or any other project that is out there.”
Alannah Hurley, Yup’ik, is executive director of United Tribes of Bristol Bay, a consortium of 15 tribes in the area of the mine. She said the preliminary final environmental impact statement doesn’t meet the standard set by Congress. She said it continues to have significant data gaps, and the analysis and studies that agencies identified as problematic have not been addressed.
“The reality is we’re facing a process that is ignoring the concerns of Bristol Bay, ignoring the concerns of other scientists across these federal agencies,” Hurley said. “And now we’re dealing with a Corps who is ignoring Congress as well, and they need to be held accountable.”
She said the root of the problems is that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is determined to get permits issued as soon as possible, no matter what the consequences.
“The big take home is that this process has been rushed from the get go,” Hurley said. “If the Corps remains on its published calendar, we will have a permit in two and a half years for the largest mine in North America, and at the headwaters of the last great sockeye salmon fishery left on the face of the planet.”
Hurley compared the Corps handling of the Pebble proposal to review of permit applications for another proposed gold mine in Alaska. Donlin “was much more of a regular process,” Hurley said. “And that took almost seven years to complete. Yet it’s a fraction of the size of what Pebble is proposing here.” (The average review period is 4.5 years according to the White House Council on Environmental Quality.)
Pebble Limited Partnership CEO Tom Collier, in a prepared statement said, “Comments that the Corps ignored comments submitted on the draft [environmental impact statement] were incorrect and irresponsible. Just because some of the groups opposed to Pebble do not like the conclusions … does not mean that the is not valid. Rather, the work on this issue is sound. It is defensible and it should be commended for its completeness.”
Collier said the preliminary final environmental impact statement supports the Pebble Partnership’s views. “The information in the near final report was positive and demonstrates the project can be done without harming the Bristol Bay fishery and would be beneficial to communities closest to the project.”
The state of Alaska favors the Pebble project. In Dec. 2019, CNN reported that Governor Mike Dunleavy used materials, sometimes verbatim, provided to him by the Pebble Partnership in comments to the Corps. A Pebble spokesperson told the Juneau Empire that such collaboration is common.
The final environmental impact statement is due for release in mid-2020. The Corps’ options are to issue a permit, issue one with conditions, or deny the application. A Record of Decision will come at least 30 days after the Final Environmental Impact Statement is released, probably in the Fall.
Joaqlin Estus, Tlingit, is a national correspondent for Indian Country Today, and a long-time Alaska journalist.
‘Indigenous people all over the world were especially vulnerable; some were not just decimated but sometimes annihilated’In the past few hundred years more than half of the Alaska Native population was decimated by wave after wave of diseases such as the measles, smallpox, diphtheria, whooping cough, and tuberculosis. Then a devastating worldwide influenza epidemic forever changed Alaska’s demographics, making Natives a minority in their homeland.
The spectre of a new epidemic triggers painful memories for Native Americans and others who heard first hand about the 1918 influenza pandemic. After all, it killed 50 to 100 million people, as much as a quarter of the world population. The 1918 influenza was highly contagious with a 2.5 percent mortality rate. (Estimates indicate the COVID-19 virus has a 2.3 percent mortality rate, although that figure may change as researchers learn more about how many people were infected.)
The 1918 influenza spread worldwide in less than a year, and struck and killed people quickly. It attacked people in their 20s and 30s, when immune systems are usually at their strongest. People would come down with a headache, nausea and a fever then die as soon as three days later. They would turn blue and suffocate as lungs filled with fluid. Some experienced hemorrhaging from the nose, stomach, ears and even the eyes.
“Indigenous people all over the world were especially vulnerable; some were not just decimated but sometimes annihilated,” stated Benjamin R. Brady of University of Arizona and Howard M. Bahr of Brigham Young University in a 2014 American Indian Quarterly article. “Native Americans ‘suffered hideously,’ with mortality rates four times higher than in the wider population.”
It is with a heavy heart that I write to you with some unfortunate news: on Wednesday, the North Dakota Public Service Commission (PSC) approved the expansion of the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL) in a 3-0 vote. If the pipeline’s operators get the same approval in Iowa and Illinois, DAPL’s capacity will double to carry over a million barrels of oil per day.
The North Dakota Public Service Commission has allowed an expansion doubling the oil flow through the Dakota Access pipeline. In our video from the original hearing, you can watch oil industry engineers dissembling about the impacts.
Once again, my people and homelands are intentionally ignored in the interest of increasing profits for the fossil fuel industry. As Standing Rock citizens, my relatives and I will be forced to bear the threat DAPL poses to our water and land. And every human being will now face the danger of increased oil production as our climate warms.
We were at the hearing on DAPL expansion in Linton, North Dakota last November. We helped the tribe muster opposition. And we watched as gas and oil employees and their attorneys lied about the risks. You can watch our video showing those lies here. We know the truth: more oil = more risk.
North Dakota’s PSC claimed in its announcement yesterday that expansion was in the best interest of the state’s citizens, but this of course ignores the valid concerns raised by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe about the increased threat of surging. And when the Tribe requested more information from Dakota Access about the risks that doubling oil flow could hold for tribal water supplies, the PSC denied the request, citing bureaucratic procedure.
All pipelines leak. In the 15 years before DAPL began operations, 60 leaks spilled more than 42,000 barrels of toxic crude oil in North Dakota alone. This was the reason we stood in prayerful resistance to stop DAPL. It is why we faced rubber bullets, attack dogs, and water cannons. We are facing down a threat to our water, and now that threat is heightened.
We will, however, press on. With Keystone XL on the horizon, we’re readying for another battle for our water, and this time we intend to win. We’re also planning major initiatives on voting in Indian Country during this critical election cycle, and we’re breaking ground on a major festival and teach-in later this year at Standing Rock that will bring musicians, activists, and scientists together to confront the climate crisis.
We hope you stay with us in the fight against the madness of continued dependence on fossil fuels. Time is short. To protect all life on earth we need to act immediately.
Standing Rock Organizer
The Lakota People’s Law Project
Thank the Women of Cheyenne River for resisting KXL
Mon, Feb 17, 2020 11:30 am
Madonna Thunder Hawk, Lakota Law (firstname.lastname@example.org)
As the Keystone XL pipeline (KXL) invades our homelands at the Cheyenne River Reservation, we women are preparing for the struggle.
In December, my daughter, Marcy, helped to organize a talk about human trafficking and Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Children (MMIWC) happening on our reservation. At this important Women Gathering, community members and representatives of many concerned organizations initiated the Nazo Campaign — providing whistles to alert relatives to unfolding crime and violence on Cheyenne River — and a resolution asking our Tribal Council to declare a state of emergency. They then presented to the council, where our tribal nation made that declaration.
Our matriarchy must and will lead this fight. We even have two generations of grandmothers working together here! The Was’agiya Najin — “Grandmothers Standing Strong” — includes both older grandmothers (OGs) like me and younger grandmothers (YGs) like Marcy.
In addition to Was’agiya Najin, our Women Gatherings also include representation from Warrior Women Project, Women of All Red Nations, Simply Smiles, Indigenous Environmental Network, the Lakota People’s Law Project, veterans, water protectors, and more. These are powerful, alliance-building meetups, and now the tribe has heeded our warning.
That’s critical, because Big Oil is building two KXL man camps — temporary housing for pipeline workers — on either side of Cheyenne River. These dens of machismo inevitably bring with them increases in sex and drug trafficking, worsening our MMIWC epidemic locally.
Here’s how bad it is: by 2014, our state’s federal courts had handed out more life sentences for commercial sex trafficking than all other states’ combined. Because 40 percent of South Dakota’s victims are Native women, we pay the highest price.
As a girl, I was shipped off to boarding school. I experienced what it is like to have my culture stripped from me, so as a young woman I became a leader in the American Indian Movement and created the “We Will Remember” Survival School. There, I taught Marcy and other children about treaty rights, to prioritize Native sovereignty, and to preserve our traditions.
Now, together, we are helping to pass on lessons of leadership and direct action to the next generations. That starts with making sure they don’t fall prey to man camps, and it means demanding action from our tribe. As Indigenous women, we have always been on the front lines, and we know how to stay ready. Will you stand with us?
Wopila tanka — my deepest gratitude for your solidarity,
Madonna Thunder Hawk
The Lakota People’s Law Project
Lakota People’s Law Project
547 South 7th Street #149
Bismarck, ND 58504-5859
The Lakota People’s Law Project is part of the Romero Institute, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) law and policy center. All donations are tax-deductible.
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There are 12 Native candidates running for United States Congress in the 2020 election cycle #NativeVote20 * This story has been updated
“If I get the opportunity to serve in Congress, it will be a great day,” Kaialiʻi “Kai” Kahele told Indian Country Today. “It won’t just be me standing up there. Behind me will be all of the people, ancestors and Native Hawaiians who came before me.”
Kahele is running to be the first. Since Hawaii became a state more than 60 years ago, there has never been a representative from the Big Island. Every national elected politician has come from Oahu.
That’s 15 in a row, if you are counting.
He also would be only the second Native Hawaiian to serve in office. Across the country a dozen Native candidates are running for the U.S. House and Senate. It’s already shaping up to be another record year, 2018 broke all sorts of barriers including the election of the first two Native women to ever serve in Congress. (With a possible third, Tricia Zunker, running in Wisconsin this week.)
A few tidbits: New Mexico is breaking all the rules. There is a Native candidate in every single district in the state. Both parties are represented. There’s even a primary where one Native candidate is running against another.
A comprehensive look at all of the #NativeVote20 candidates for the U.S. House and U.S. Senate.
There are at least nine of the candidates running for House seats and three are in Senate campaigns. Eight of the candidates are women and five are men. Seven are democrats and six are republicans.
The list of Native candidates and their platforms are below:
U.S. House of Representatives, New Mexico, District 3
Karen Bedonie, Navajo, is running for an open congressional seat in New Mexico’s 3rd district. Bedonie owns four small businesses. She is also a certified welder, framer, construction coordinator, construction manager, kitchen interior designer and a sous chef.
Bedonie, a republican candidate, cites her policy positions clearly on her campaign website. Bedonie is anti-abortion, supports the second amendment, aims to support small businesses and believes immigration should be conducted in a “legal organized manner.”
“I am a Conservative and those same values miraculously align with Navajo culture,” Bedonie’s campaign website states. “Therefore I stand as a Republican.”
Bedonie’s campaign has generated more than $15,000, according to data from the Federal Election Commission. Bedonie is currently running against five other candidates for the Republican party’s nomination. The primary election for this seat will happen on June 2, 2020.
U.S. House of Representatives, New Mexico, District 3
Dineh Benally, Navajo, is running as a Democrat for New Mexico’s 3rd congressional district (note: this is the same seat Bedonie is running for). Benally has previous campaign experience running for Navajo Nation president, vice president, and New Mexico state senate. He did not win any of these previous elections.
Benally is the current president of the Navajo Nation San Juan River Farm Board, an organization that focuses on water rights and bettering local economies.
The list of issues on Benally’s agenda are improving healthcare, increased access to medical and industrial agriculture, boosting home ownership and increased funding for education.
Benally told Indian Country Today that his end goal is to collaborate with various policymakers to improve the “livelihood of Navajo people, Native Americans, and the general public at large.”
“I will also continue to work towards becoming the next President of the Navajo Nation in 2022,” says Benally’s website.
There is no current data on Benally’s campaign earnings listed on the Federal Election Commission’s website. The primary election for this congressional seat will happen on June 2, 2020.
Gavin Clarkson, Choctaw, is running for an open U.S. Senate seat in New Mexico. Clarkson recently served in the Department of the Interior under the Trump Administration where he managed the Office of Indian Energy and Economic Development and the Office of Self-Governance.
“My story is quite different from most people who spend their lives climbing the political stepladder aspiring to be another career politician,” Clarkson said in a press release announcing his campaign in August.
“I’m a tribal member whose orphaned father went from living out of trash cans to being the first Native American to fly a jet. I have a law degree, an MBA, and a Doctorate in Business Administration,” he said. “I’ve taught for two decades as a conservative in higher education and been illegally fired for it, and I’ve served as an economic development official in the Trump administration in the heart of the swamp.”
Clarkson has been named an expert in tribal finance by The Financial Times and has taught federal Indian law since 2003 at a variety of law schools across the country. In his free time, Clarkson says he enjoys country western dancing. He won a national championship hosted by the American Country Dance Association in 2012.
Clarkson has raised more than $583,000 so far in his Senate campaign, according to the Federal Elections Committee. The primary election for his party’s nomination will happen on June 2, 2020. To win the Republican nomination, Clarkson will need to receive more votes than the five other Republican candidates running for the open seat.
U.S. House of Representatives, Oklahoma, District 4
Tom Cole, Chickasaw, will run for reelection to continue representing Oklahoma’s fourth district. His office told Indian Country Today that every indication is that Rep. Cole will seek reelection and an official announcement will be made before the filing deadline in April.
Cole has served in the U.S. House for the last 17 years and has held numerous leadership positions with the Republican National Committee and National Republican Congressional Committee.
Cole co-chairs the Congressional Native American Caucus with Rep. Deb Haaland. Together they called for the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act to include provisions for Native people that were altered in the Senate version. He and 77 lawmakers upheld the constitutionality of the Indian Child Welfare Act that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth District is reconsidering. Additionally, he helped introduce a bill to improve housing conditions in Indian Country and co-sponsored a bill to revitalize Native American languages.
Oklahoma’s primary election takes place on June 30.
Sharice DavidsHo-Chunk Nation
U.S. House of Representatives, Kansas, District 3
Sharice Davids, Ho-Chunk, is running for reelection as the congressional member for Kansas’s 3rd district. When she was first elected in 2018, she joined Rep. Haaland as the first two Native women to serve in U.S. Congress. She also became the first LGBTQ Native person to be elected into the U.S. Congress.
Kansas’ primary election will take place on August 4.
U.S. House of Representatives, New Mexico, District 1
Deb Haaland, Laguna Pueblo, is running for reelection as the representative for New Mexico’s 1st district. Haaland was first elected to this position in 2018 when she and Rep. Davids became the first two Native women to serve in Congress.
Haaland told Indian Country Today that despite being an incumbent in this election cycle, her “enthusiasm and focus will be the same.”
Haaland has also used her time to travel to Indigenous communities outside of her home district in New Mexico. Earlier this month, Haaland visited the Meskwaki Indian Settlement on the night of the Iowa caucus to campaign for Senator Elizabeth Warren.
“I may not be the congresswoman for Iowa but I am the congresswoman for Indian Country,” Haaland said at the event. “My door is open for all of you.”
Haaland has raised more than $830,000 so far in her reelection campaign, according to the Federal Elections Committee. The primary election in New Mexico will happen on June 2, 2020. Haaland is currently facing one democrat opponent for the nomination.
U.S. House of Representatives, New Mexico, District 2
Yvette Herrell, Cherokee, is running to represent the second district of New Mexico in the U.S. Congress. Previously Herrell served four terms in the New Mexico House of Representatives. She is also a former small business owner and entrepreneur.
“Born and raised in New Mexico, I understand firsthand what our families are going through,” Herrell said on her campaign website. “I will fight for our hardworking middle class, job creators, and traditions that make New Mexico great.”
Herrell also states her views on various policies. She says she wants to complete construction of the border wall, protect the second amendment, support President Trump, defeat the Green New Deal and expand New Mexico’s role in national security projects.
Herrell has received a number of endorsements from policymakers including Rep. Mark Meadows, R-NC, Rep. Andy Biggs, R-AZ and Governor Mike Huckabee. She also received endorsements from Cowboys for Trump, Citizens United and Gun Owners of America.
In 2018, Herrell ran for this congressional seat and lost in a close race. She lost in the general election by just 3,700 votes. This time around, Herrell is running against two other republicans for her party’s nomination. The primary election is held in New Mexico on June 2, 2020.
Paulette Jordan, Coeur d’Alene, is running for a U.S. Senate seat in Idaho. She previously held office for two terms in the Idaho House of Representatives. In 2018, she unsuccessfully ran for governor of Idaho.
“I’m excited to announce my candidacy to represent Idaho in the U.S. Senate. Over the past several years, I’ve had the opportunity to listen to thousands of Idahoans throughout this great state,” Jordan said on her campaign website announcing her campaign in early February. “Above all, I’ve learned that our state needs new leadership. We need leaders who value people over politics.”
Her stance on issues range from improving healthcare and education for Idahoans, addressing cyber security, social security, LGBTQ rights and legalizing marijuana. Jordan founded two nonprofit organizations, Idaho Voice and Save the American Salmon.
Jordan was the youngest member on her tribal council and has worked in the energy sector as a business development strategist. She also served as the finance chair and secretary of the executive board for the National Indian Gaming Association.
There is currently no data on Jordan’s campaign donations, according to the Federal Election Committee. Currently Jordan faces three opponents for the democratic party’s nomination. The primary election will choose their party’s candidate on May 19, 2020.
U.S. House of Representatives, Hawaii, District 2
Kaialiʻi “Kai” Kahele is running for an open congressional seat in Hawaii’s second district. Kahele has been a Hawaii state senator for four years and is a trained pilot in the U.S. Air Force. He has flown in the Air Force for more than 18 years.
Kahele lists 18 different policy platforms on his campaign website. They include protecting the environment, creating opportunities for indigenous voices, and combating issues such as homelessness, substance abuse and food insecurity.
On the topic of Native Hawaiian and Indigenous rights, Kahele says he will “champion” the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act and would support the Self Determination Act to fund the Department of Hawaiian Homelands. He also supports the U.S. ratification of the United Nations Declaration of Rights on Indigenous Peoples.
Most recently Kahele has been endorsed by former Governors of Hawaii John David Waiheʻe, Ben Cayetano and Neil Abercrombie. He has also been endorsed by Rep. Seth Moulton, D-MA, Rep. Brad Sherman, D-CA, and former Hawaii state representative Kaniela Ing.
Kahele has raised more than $719,000 for his congressional campaign, according to the Federal Elections Committee. Currently, Kahele faces one opponent in the primary election. Voters will head to the polls for Hawaii’s primary election on August 8, 2020.
Elisa Martinez, Navajo, is running for U.S. Senate in New Mexico in the the same race as Gavin Clarkson.
She is the founder of the New Mexico Alliance for Life and worked with the Congressional Select Panel on Infant Lives.
“Let’s take back New Mexico’s future,” Martinez writes on her campaign website. “Together we’ll make history electing New Mexico’s first female Senator and the first Native American woman in the U.S. Senate.”
Martinez says she is concerned about border security, the second amendment, non-universal healthcare, veterans’ rights and reducing the federal government’s role in education.
She wrote an op-ed for Fox News, calling out Elizabeth Warren’s heritage as a Native woman contradictory to the Native American policies she advocates for, and Martinez’s personal experience with the government’s relationship with the reservation.
Martinez has raised more than $154,000 for her campaign, data from the Federal Elections Committee shows. She is running against five other candidates for the republican nomination. The primary election will be held on June 2, 2020 in New Mexico.
Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma
U.S. House of Representatives, Oklahoma, District, 2
Markwayne Mullin, Cherokee, is running for reelection as the congressman for Oklahoma’s second district. He was first elected in 2012 and served for three years on the Energy and Commerce Committee since 2015. He also owns Mullin Plumbing, a business owned previously by his father.
Mullin has raised more than $766,000 for his reelection campaign since January 2019, data from the Federal Elections Committee shows. Oklahoma’s primary election will happen on June 30, 2020.
U.S. House of Representatives, Idaho, District 1
Rudy Soto, Shoshone-Bannock, is running to represent Idaho’s first congressional district. Previously Soto was the legislative director of the National Indian Gaming Association. He is also a veteran of the U.S. Army National Guard.
“I’m really passionate about growing Native American representation on all levels of government,” Soto told Indian Country Today. “If I’m elected, I will always strive to represent my family, community, tribe, state and Indian Country in a good way.”
Some of Soto’s priorities include creating affordable housing, providing universal health care, supporting Idaho’s Native communities, and reforming immigration and education.
Previously, Soto was also the legislative assistant for Congresswoman Norma Torres of California, and a legislative fellow for Congressman Kurt Schrader of Oregon.
Soto has raised more than $18,000 for his congressional campaign, data from the Federal Election Commissions show. Idaho will have its primary election on May 19, 2020.
Indian Country Today is maintaining databases of Native candidates for offices across the country. If you know of any Native candidates running for U.S. Congress that are not included here, please contact Aliyah Chavez.