Voting Against or Believing In? The Native American Dilemma in American Politics

I was so proud to learn that Native Americans were prominent in the recent traffic blockade of an Arizona Trump rally!


Photo from: Simon Moya-Smith

Natives should all be involved in politics in every way possible. Politics are responsible for much of the neglect we experience in Indian Country. So, influencing politics is part of the path toward justice and health in Indian Country. We need to step up, participate, be seen, and flex our voting muscles. At the very least, we can encourage candidates to make promises they won’t keep like they do to everyone else…we don’t even get those kinds of promises right now!

But, What Do We Vote For?

We, as Natives, rarely have much to gain in a National election. Sadly, Native issues are a national afterthought, and a national disgrace. As of this writing, no national candidate from either party has taken time to address Native Issues in anything close to a substantial way…and they rarely do.

Ever since I have been voting, I have more often voted against candidates whose views were biased against Native communities. My Dad is in his 50’s. He says he has rarely (twice) had the opportunity to vote for someone. He, like me, has voted against most of his life. Even my brothers and sisters in the picture above are protesting against something harmful, not for a better alternative. This is the beauty of a 2 party system-You don’t have to be good, the other person just has to be (perceived as) worse.

This time, though, for now, protesting against who may do us harm is the proper course of action. As of now, we know who may hurt us most and, maybe, who may hurt us a little less. We do not know who will be an advocate and elevate our issues to a place of constructive engagement, policy, and action. We have no one to be for yet.

No Trump. No Way

Trump is simplistic, divisive, and encourages xenophobic thinking. The second worst sort of populist. None of these descriptions is really that debatable. Importantly, he talks about the world simply, a world of winners and losers. What side do you think Natives would be on to his supporters? Reagan actually called us losers in a European speech and endorsed removing supports across the board for reservations and systems that served Native communities. Simple works for simple people. I am not one. From a Trump viewpoint, treaties could be viewed as poorly negotiated contracts that need to be “legally” subverted rather than honored. (I would agree that they are poorly negotiated, but not for the same reasons!) Dozens of Republican-leaning editorials, pundits, and even politicians are expressing extreme concern for Trump as a candidate for President. I don’t want to repeat all of that here. Suffice it to say that, as a Native, as a woman, as a minority, and as an American, Trump scares me. We should do everything we can to keep him from the presidency.

No Cruz. No Way

Everything, except allow Cruz to ascend! Ted Cruz is even scarier to me. Whereas Trump seems to have visceral populist policy-related reactions, he will negotiate. Cruz is a different kind of candidate. He runs on rigid values tied to far right conservative politics that are negatively associated with human rights, religious rights (well, for all but one religion!), and a host of other issues essential to Indian Country. He is willing, even eager, to shut down a government, vote to maintain and extend cuts to Indian Country, and whatever else goes along with his version of values. Someone who rigidly believes that they are correct in the way he does, who behaves as he has behaved, who says what he says, and who lacks the respect of his peers, spells potential disaster for Indian Country.

If I were a Republican, and Kasich were not a viable option, I would vote for Trump for Republican nominee, just to keep Cruz out of contention…But never for President.

The Republican establishment has been battered by their acceptance of Tea Party values and tactics. Many of their leading moderates have been primaried (a term for losing a challenge in their districts by a more extreme candidate of their own party) and are now gone. Most of the rest have been neutralized. The idea of negotiating and compromising for the good of all people has been replaced by an all-or-nothing strategy that most often leaves us with the “nothing” option from Congress. These extreme views have driven the moderates out or underground, and propelled ideological obstructionists, like Cruz, to the forefront. It is a scary time for the party, and the nation. Further, it has taken its toll on Indian Country in a myriad of ways..

Surprisingly, as I write, a number of Republicans are urging establishment-types to get behind Cruz, a person they hate, primarily as a way to rob Trump of enough delegates to win the nomination outright. Cruz is a political disaster. Trump is a public relations disaster. Guess where the priorities are? Hopefully, the plan would be to go to an open convention and to slip in a more acceptable candidate who could unite the party rather than put the final nail in the extremist coffin. Paul Ryan, once considered a bit extreme (especially economically), is now squarely a moderate in this severely skewed party.

Between Trump and Cruz (assuming Kasich were not an option), I think I would rather see Trump as the Republican nominee. Cruz is potentially far more destructive for Native Americans, and Americans in general, because he is focused and rigid. He is an absolutist, an ideologue. Cruz will not represent ALL people, he will merely DECIDE for all people. With a majority in the House and a weak Senate majority, that scares me. I just wouldn’t want to risk the possibility of Cruz as President. But, most importantly. Trump would more likely lose in the general, and that is what is most important for Indian Country.

So, barring a dramatic Republican convention miracle, there will NOT be a plausible candidate on the Republican side as an option for Native Americans.

What about on the Democratic side?

Not sure yet. I have recently had some discussions with Sanders’ staffers about efforts in Indian Country. I know his coordinator for Native American issues as well. He actually has one! And, I like aspects of his message. Props for that. I haven’t met anyone on the Clinton side yet and am unaware of any Native staff on her campaign specifically devoted to Indian Country. I did see that she had staffers meet with Natives in Nevada and I am assuming the same in Arizona. Sanders also had a great time in Arizona, and really had a passionate speech for those that attended, including the area Natives. But, like Latinos, African Americans, and Asians, we exist all over the country, not just in Arizona and Nevada. More please!

As I said in a previous blog post, despite having the highest poverty levels in a campaign focused on economic equality and opportunity, neither Bernie nor Hillary regularly mention Native Americans when they list citizen groups of concern (White, Black, Latino, Asian, Immigrant…but never Native American…don’t get me started!)

It is a matter of justice not pandering. We only hear it when justice and pandering overlap. We should be mentioned on principle, not just used for our votes. No one who is truly committed to social justice can ignore what is going on in Indian Country, regardless of whether we are a key voting demographic in certain regional races. If it s a national disgrace, then please discuss it nationally. But, nothing is said regularly by either. Nothing specific. Nothing…yet. Please respect us for more than what we can do for you. Address our issues because it is the right thing to do (see below). We should be part of EVERY speech. You need to recognize that we exist before you win my vote!

Native Eyes Should be on the General Election in November, and We Should Start Moving There Now

What I am endorsing in this post, is that, when the time comes to vote for President, Natives are better off voting against Trump and Cruz as potential Republican candidates. Both would be a disaster, Cruz moreso than Trump, but for different reasons. For that reason, we are not just better-off voting against these candidates. We NEED to vote against these candidates. Even under Obama we lost ground (IHS was severely cut in the sequestration). Imagine Cruz or Trump! If we can’t win, we have to defend our losses. Natives need to vote if we want to influence the future of our people.

What I can’t tell you, is who to believe in. Who to vote for. Only who to vote against. Fortunately for the democratic nominee, whoever it is, the choices on the other side are HIGHLY motivating to vote against.

But, wouldn’t it be nice to vote for someone you believe in? As of this writing, I am not endorsing a primary candidate on the Democratic side. I won’t until one or both of them begin to address Native issues regularly and directly instead of commiserating, and acknowledging past atrocities. I want policy recommendations, promises for action, elevation in the discussion. I will need much more substance on Native issues in THIS primary to commit to a candidate. I want to get involved. Give me a reason to jump into the fray on your side, not just against your opponent in the general election!


I re-read this post and wanted to add hope to it. This is where I am at now: The lesser of evils. But, I am engaged. I am advocating. I am hopeful. I am looking forward. Looking forward to hearing more from Clinton and Sanders. Looking forward to concrete and specific proposals to improve the lives of Native people. Looking forward to BELIEVING in a candidate. Looking forward to jumping in with enthusiasm and purpose. If that happens, you will be the first to know! Stay tuned…


Twitter: / @_NativeInDC



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