Sanders (I- VT) discusses issues facing Native Americans March
17 at Twin Arrows. (photo by Patrick Carr - Navajo-Hopi Observer)
TWIN ARROWS, AZ - Bernie Sanders (I- VT) visited the Navajo
Nation March 17 and put on a rally at Twin Arrows Navajo Casino
Resort before an enthusiastic crowd of thousands of people and addressed
Native American issues.
Sanders said there is sadly no discussion that since settlers
first came to this country, Native Americans have been lied to,
they have been cheated and negotiated treaties have been broken.
"We owe the Native American people so, so much," Sanders
told the enthusiastic crowd. "And we are forever grateful that
they have shared their culture, that they have shared their respect
for the environment with us."
Sanders said in many cases the first Americans still live on
ancestral lands, which they have called home for thousands of years
while others live on lands where they have been moved forcibly by
federal policies throughout history. And he said Native Americans
have not been heard on issues that impact their communities and
have instead been told what to do, while they are not allowed to
be involved in the process.
"Despite the existence of negotiated treaties, which coerced
tribal nations into ceding, as we all know, millions of acres of
their homelands to the United States in exchange for guaranteed
rights - many of those rights have not been upheld," Sanders
said. "Despite past and ongoing mistreatment of Native Americans,
including federally sanctioned assimilation through boarding schools,
Native Americans have maintained possession of cultural and natural
resources today that are the key to the Indian country's bright
Sanders said the United States government has a duty to ensure
equal opportunities and justice for all of its citizens, including
"Let us be honest and acknowledge that we are not doing
that today," he said.
Sanders said he has learned of the challenges Native Americans
face from his travels to many tribal nations across the country
and talking to tribal leaders.
"Native Americans continue to face appalling levels of
inequality and systematic injustice," he said.
He said that today in America, one in four Native Americans
is living in poverty. The high school graduation rate is 67 percent,
the lowest of any racial demographic group. The second leading cause
of death for Native Americans between 15 and 24 is suicide.
"That speaks to incredible despair," Sanders told
the crowd. "It's important that we lay this out because without
the knowledge we cannot go forward."
Sanders continued - one in three Native American women will
be raped in her lifetime, most of the offenders are non-Native.
Most of the programs dedicated to the tribal nations are underfunded,
which has led to inadequate housing, healthcare and education and
insufficient law enforcement. Native Americans have a lower life
expectancy and higher rates of uninsured than the population at
large, and even those who have health coverage have difficulty accessing
the healthcare they need.
"Exacerbating the troubles of Indian country is a failure
to understand and support the principles of self-determination,"
Sanders said during his 30 years in Congress, he and others
have worked to confront challenges facing the Native American community
and to create opportunities for them. He has opposed fracked gas
and tar sands pipelines like the Keystone Pipeline and a move to
more sustainable practices like solar, wind and geothermal. He recently
introduced the 'Save Oak Flat' bill in the Senate.
"The sacred places of our Native American communities cannot
and must not be sacrificed for the profits of mining interests,"
Sanders told the cheering crowd.
He said that as a nation, the U.S. needs to move toward more
tribal sovereignty and tribal jurisdiction in prosecuting criminal
acts committed on tribal lands, regardless of the race of the perpetrator
and that tribal nations need more control and investment in tribal
"We need to recommit the federal government to honor the
treaties and statutes that are at the core of the trust relationship,"
Sanders said. "Washington should never act on issues of importance
to the tribes without being in consultation with them."
Finally, Sanders said the federal government must act to protect
Native American cultures and that tribal nations must be empowered
by providing resources to protect and revitalize indigenous languages,
religions, cultures and traditions.
"The culture of the Native American people is so rich and
so extraordinary that all of us will gain from preserving and enhancing
that culture," Sanders said.