Clinton and Obama on Native American Issues

( – promoted by buhdydharma )

Cross-posted from the Daily Kos.

(my original post at Kos needed a huge update because I inadvertently left out a big chunk of Obama’s proposals. This is the updated essay)

Even though I have a very strong personal opinion based on my position as an anti-war voter, I want to present both Obama’s and Clinton’s policy proposals on Native American issues.  

I believe that Amnesty International did a lot through its report, United States of America: Maze of Injustice: The failure to protect indigenous women from violence, and follow-up work with State and National legislators to give these issues more national attention.

So, whomever you support right now, all of this is great news. Below I have blockquoted each set of proposals from the Clinton and Obama campaigns. They are long, but I wanted to give you the complete statements.


I’ll start out with Clinton:

You can find this statement here

As President, Senator Clinton will:

Recognize the Government-to-Government and Trust Relationship: Hillary will sign an Executive Order that supports regular and meaningful consultation and collaboration with Indian tribal governments. She recognizes that the federal trust responsibility is a legal obligation under which the United States “has charged itself with moral obligations of the highest responsibility and trust” towards Indian tribes.

Appoint Native Americans
: Hillary will work to appoint Native Americans to key positions in a number of federal departments and agencies. She will work to nominate qualified judges from all backgrounds who understand tribal sovereignty and the government-to-government relationship between tribes and the federal government. And she will appoint a senior official in the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs to serve as her liaison to Native American communities in recognition of the government-to-government relationship.

Elevate the Director of the Indian Health Service to the Assistant Secretary Level: Health care is a key priority for American Indian communities. For too long, its importance has been underemphasized in the organizational structure at the Department of Health and Human Services. While other important areas of health policy are spearheaded at the assistant secretary level, the Indian Health Service’s lead officer remains a director. Hillary will elevate the head of the Indian Health Service to Assistant Secretary so that he or she can advocate more effectively for Native American health care needs.

Work to Improve Health Care for Native Americans: The average life expectancy for Native Americans is 71 years of age– nearly five years less than the rest of the population. [iii] Today, American Indians continue to experience troubling rates of diabetes, mental health disorders, cardiovascular disease, pneumonia, and influenza. Native Americans are 650 percent more likely to die from tuberculosis, 420 percent more likely to die from diabetes and 52 percent more likely to die from pneumonia or influenza than the United States average, including white and minority populations.

In the Senate, Hillary has taken steps to improve the access and quality of health care for Native Americans by co-sponsoring the Indian Health Care Improvement Act Amendment of 2007, a comprehensive piece of legislation to improve health care for American Indians throughout the country.

As President, Hillary will support meaningful increases for the vital investments to provide health care to Native American communities. Throughout the country, there is an acute need for access to quality health care for Native Americans – a need that too often goes unmet today. The per capita expenditure for Native Americans is only one-third of the average annual expenditure for Medicaid assistance. In 2003, the federal government spent nearly $6,000 for each Medicare recipient, but only $2,000 for Indian Health Service medical care per person. The Indian Health Service is severely underfunded, and the lack of available facilities forces people in remote locations to travel great distances for routine check ups. [iv] Hillary is committed to meaningful increases to the Indian Health Service budget to provide all Native Americans access to quality, affordable health care.

Stand Up for Native American Veterans
: Native Americans have a long and proud tradition of participating with distinction in the U.S. Armed Services. By the end of the 20th century there were nearly 190,000 Native American Veterans. They have one of the highest per capita service rates among ethnic groups in the United States. [v] By the end of December 2005, the Department of Defense reported that 20,000 Native Americans and Alaskan Natives were serving in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force. As President, Hillary will ensure that all of those who have sacrificed on behalf of our country receive the help and care they need. She has proposed to fully fund our veteran’s health care system, including intensive care for those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. She will fight to cut the red tape facing our wounded soldiers and she will protect servicemembers against predatory lending, insurance fraud, and other financial scams. Above all, she will ensure that veteran benefits extend to all veterans.

Increase Funding for Indian Head Start Program: A September 2007 study from National Geographic revealed that tribal languages are the most vulnerable to extinction in the world. Senator Clinton supports Pre-K and schooling programs that support a child’s native language. Consistent with all Head Start programs, the American Indian Head Start Program supports the rich and diverse culture and heritage of the children they serve, and encourages teachers to incorporate language and culture into their curriculum and program goals. More than 80 different languages are spoken in Indian Head Start. Because of the social and economic circumstances in Indian Country, Senator Clinton has and will continue to support increased funding for this vital program which is critical for the future of Native American children.

Achieve Universal Pre-K for Native American Children: Studies show that providing four-year-olds with a high-quality early education leads to higher achievement and graduation rates and higher-earning careers. Nonetheless, less than 20 percent – only 800,000 out of four million – of four year olds and 120,000 three year olds are currently enrolled in state pre-K programs, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research. Hillary has proposed a national pre-K initiative that would extend access to high-quality pre-K programs to every four-year old in America. As part of her initiative, Hillary will allocate funds to tribally-sponsored pre-K programs. She will ensure that tribally-sponsored pre-K programs receive federal matching dollars just as state programs do. Her program is designed so that children from low-income families and children from limited English households can enroll in pre-K programs at no cost.

Increase Support for Tribal Colleges and Institutions Serving Native Americans: Since the late 1960s, the nation’s tribal colleges and universities (TCUs) have played a critical role in promoting tribally-determined higher education. Currently, the 34 TCUs in the United States are providing culturally-relevant teaching, community outreach, and research services to tribal communities throughout the country. Hillary supports increased funding for tribal colleges. She voted for the recently signed College Cost Reduction and Access Act, which includes $10 million to help create a program for Native American Serving Institutions.

Improve Native American Housing: Native American families live in overcrowded homes and lack plumbing, telephone service and kitchen facilities at rates far exceeding the general public. Approximately 90,000 Native families are homeless or under-housed, and an estimated 200,000 housing units are needed immediately in Indian Country. Hillary supports efforts to improve the acquisition, rehabilitation, and construction of affordable housing on Indian lands. Specifically, Senator Clinton would increase funding for the Native American Housing Block Grant and modernize the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act.

Encourage Energy Efficient Development: Hillary supports the rights of tribal governments to adopt and regulate their own environmental policies, but she also understands the important role the federal government plays in catalyzing energy efficiency in Indian Country. As president, Hillary will create and expand federal-tribal partnerships to promote the use of solar and wind power in Indian Country. And as part of a major nationwide weatherization initiative, Hillary will work to fund the weatherization of all low-income homes in Indian Country. Last winter the average fuel bill was $889; this year it is expected to jump to $997. [vi] The weatherization of Native American homes will curb rising costs and improve energy efficiency.

Law Enforcement for Indian Country: American Indians experience violence at rates more than twice the rate for the country as a whole. [vii] There are only about 2,500 Bureau of Indian Affairs and tribal uniformed police officers serving an estimated 1.4 million Indians covering more than 56 million acres of tribal lands in the lower 48 states. On tribal lands, 1.3 officers must serve every 1,000 citizens, compared to 2.9 officers per 1,000 citizens in non-Indian communities with populations under 10,000. [viii] These staffing levels are simply insufficient to meet the law enforcement challenges facing Indian Country. Amnesty International recently released a report that concluded that one in three Native American women will be raped in her lifetime. And, in recent years methamphetamine has disproportionately devastated Native American tribal communities- Native Americans are more than four times as likely as whites to use crystal methamphetamine. [ix] An informal survey of the seven FBI offices located primarily in Indian Country estimated that approximately 40-50% of violent crime cases investigated in Indian Country involve meth. [x] Hillary supports providing resources for law enforcement in Indian Country, promoting state-tribal cooperative agreements where appropriate to reduce crime, and improving the collection of data on Indian Country crime and how those crimes are handled by authorities.

Here’s Obama’s position from his website, which you can go to here.


The most fundamental function of all governments is to ensure the safety of their citizens and maintain law and order. For tribes, this responsibility falls on tribal governments, and in certain respects, the federal government. The federal government has a legal trust responsibility to aid tribal nations in furthering self-government in recognition of tribes’ inherent sovereignty. Unfortunately, the government has failed to live up to its obligation to help tribes maintain order.

Tribes have been divested of much of the authority to control their own lands, and the government has failed to support tribal law enforcement systems. As a result, many tribal communities experience staggering rates of crime, having neither the resources nor the jurisdiction to protect their own communities. Barack is committed to providing tribal nations with adequate funding for law enforcement and judicial systems. He is also committed to addressing core jurisdictional problems so that tribes can provide for the public health, safety, and political integrity of their communities.

Policing: Traditional tribal societies had sophisticated methods of maintaining law and order. Unfortunately, centuries of destructive federal policies have left tribes with few resources to provide basic law enforcement services in today’s society. The government made the adoption of the United States’ justice system mandatory, stripped tribes of the authority to enforce it, and has consistently failed to adequately support tribes or enforce the law in their stead. Obama is committed adequately funding Bureau of Indian Affairs Law Enforcement services and removing bureaucratic obstacles to improving the delivery of law enforcement services. Barack Obama also supports fully funding the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program that many tribal law enforcement agencies have come to rely upon.

Tribal Courts: Strong tribal courts able to enforce, interpret, and make tribal law foster healthy communities. Additionally, many tribal courts utilize dispute resolution systems rooted in traditional tribal common law, which serves to empower local communities. Despite the vital role of tribal courts to community development, many tribal justice systems are severely underfunded and unable to meet ever-growing case loads. Tribes regularly struggle to provide infrastructure and staffing needs such as such as security, digital recording, clerks, and case management systems. Barack Obama will increase aid to tribal nations for tribal court systems.


Burgeoning Violence: Violence in Indian Country is committed at rates among the highest levels in the country. A recent study by Amnesty International details the alarming rates at which Native women are subject to violence. The report states that 1 in 3 American Indian women will be raped in their lifetime, and are almost 3 times as likely to be raped or sexually assaulted than other women of America. Similarly, Methamphetamine use on reservations is out of control. For example, in 2005 more than one quarter of babies born on the San Carlos Apache Reservation were born addicted to meth, and 74 percent of Indian law enforcement agencies responding to a national survey reported that meth use was the greatest threat to their communities. The same survey reported dramatic increases in cases of domestic violence, child neglect, sex crimes, and weapons charges.

A Jurisdictional Maze: Both of these unfortunate situations, along with the extreme rates of crime on reservations, share a root problem: the jurisdictional maze on Indian lands makes law enforcement complex, uncertain, and all too often, rare. Depending on the identity of the victim and the perpetrator, criminal jurisdiction falls to the tribe, the federal government, or the state. When the offender is non-Indian, the tribe does not have jurisdiction. This is a problem as a substantial portion of offenses are committed by non-Indians. For example, 88% of crimes against Native women are committed by non-Indians. Having different jurisdictions depending on the race of the involved parties makes identification of the proper enforcement difficult and disheartening, and non-tribal law enforcement is often sparse and distant. This maze allows for pockets of lawlessness, and allows reservations to be easy targets for drug rings and manufacturers.

A New Look at Tribal Justice: Barack Obama will work to encourage a reexamination of the current jurisdictional scheme. A recent DOJ report states that the 1978 legal decision largely responsible for the current design is an “obstacle” to getting control of the abysmal crime rate in Indian country. As president, Barack Obama will reexamine this decision. Without jurisdiction over both Indians and non-Indians alike, tribes are unable to address a large portion of the criminal activity on their homelands. Meanwhile, Obama encourages authorities with jurisdiction on reservations to work with tribes in order to provide Native women and families with the protection they need. Barack Obama also supports policies targeting methamphetamine manufacturers and distributors.

Combat Meth Act of 2005: Barack Obama supported the Combat Meth Act of 2005 which was signed into law during the 109th Congress. The act puts federal funds into the fight against methamphetamine, provides assistance to children affected by meth abuse, and places restrictions on the sale of the ingredients used to make the drug. Medicines containing pseudoephedrine and ephedrine (decongestants and asthma medication, for example) must now be kept behind pharmaceutical counters, and consumers must provide proof of age to make a purchase.

A Proven Counter-Meth Record in Illinois: Illinois has had some success combating use of methamphetamines thanks to the Southern Illinois Enforcement Group, a program paid for in part by federal Byrne Justice Assistance Grants. The Byrne grants helped this 31-county task force pay five of its 12 agents. The Bush Administration proposed eliminating the grant program from the FY 2006 budget. Barack Obama supported an amendment to the Justice Department spending bill that increased funding for the Byrne program from $625.5 million to $900 million for 2006.

Fight Meth’s Precursor Chemicals
: Drug enforcement experts have long believed that methamphetamines can be best fought by striking at the source: the factories that produce its precursor chemicals. Unlike cocaine and marijuana, drugs that are derived from widespread, easily grown plants, methamphetamines are based on legally-manufactured chemicals produced in only nine factories worldwide (one in Germany, one in the Czech Republic, two in China, and five in India). Restricting global imports of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine according to national pharmaceutical demand could help cut off drug labs. Mexico, for example, imported 224 tons of precursor chemicals in 2004-an amount twice the estimated national need.

Take on the Mexican Cartels:
The United States’ aggressive lab seizures and restrictions on over-the-counter sale of ephedrine- and pseudoephedrine-based products have compelled Mexican drug cartels to move their operations south of the border. Today, 65 percent of methamphetamines in the United States come from Mexican cartels. When the State Department began working with the Mexican government to restrict precursor imports, the cartels moved manufacturing operations to Latin America and began importing freshly manufactured methamphetamines from Asia. Obama believes that the role of Mexican drug cartels and their global network must be thoroughly addressed by the international community.

Some background on the mention of the cartels. There were news reports that representatives of these cartels were basically giving away free samples on the reservations to get people hooked. When I find a link to that article, I’ll edit in here.

UPDATE: I left out a whole chunk of Obama’s positions because they weren’t all on the same page. Sorry about that. Here’s more:


American Indians experience some of the most severe socioeconomic conditions in the United States. Poverty and its effects are pervasive, with more than a quarter of all American Indians living in poverty and unemployment rates reaching 80 percent on some reservations. Obama’s experience as a community organizer working in poor neighborhoods plagued by high unemployment has taught him that there is no single solution to community poverty. Therefore, he supports using a comprehensive approach that includes investment in physical, human and institutional infrastructure, increased access to capital, the removal of barriers to development, and above all, authentic government-to-government relationships between the federal government and tribes.


Housing: American Indians suffer from some of the deplorable housing conditions in the nation. Some 14 percent of all reservation homes have no electricity, and on some reservations, as many as 20 people are forced to live in a single-family home. Barack Obama supports providing adequate levels of funding for the Indian Housing Block Grant and other Indian housing programs as well as working to increase the effectiveness of these programs.

Roads: Safe, reliable roads are a basic component of economic development. Unfortunately, the federal government is failing in its commitment to help tribes maintain tribal road systems. Many reservation roads are unsafe and under-maintained, impacting not only economic development but health and safety as well. Motor vehicle fatality rates for American Indians are nearly twice as high other races. As president Barack Obama would support increased resources for tribes to maintain their road systems, like the Indian Roads Reservation Program and the BIA Indian Road Maintenance program.

Energy:Tribal nations have joined in America’s quest for alternative, renewable energy. Because of their rural land bases and access to natural resources, many tribes have made great strides in economic development in the energy sector. Tribes have successful operations producing gas, solar, and wind energy. In addition to harnessing and producing energy, tribes have an interest in energy rights-of-way across tribal lands. Obama supports the production and mobility of sustainable energy in all communities, and recognizes the potential for energy development in Indian country. He also encourages energy companies and Indian tribes to negotiate in good faith to ensure tribes receive just compensation.

Additionally, tribes are effectively unable to use the renewable energy Production Tax Credit, which provides tax incentives for the operation of renewable energy facilities. Obama supports creation of a Joint Venture Production Tax Credit that allows tribes to partner with private companies and fully utilize vast tribal energy resources.

Access to Capital

Earned Income Tax Credit: In both the Illinois State Senate and the U.S. Senate, Obama has championed efforts to expand the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), which is one of the most successful anti-poverty programs to date. Unfortunately, many Native families and individuals do not claim the EITC because they simply do not know about it. As president, Obama would support a Native EITC awareness campaigns and tax preparation programs.

As president, Obama will reward work by increasing the number of working parents eligible for EITC benefits, increasing the benefit available to parents who support their children through child support payments, increasing the benefit for families with three or more children and reducing the EITC marriage penalty which hurts low-income families. Under the Obama plan, full-time workers making minimum wage would get an EITC benefit up to $555, more than three times greater than the $175 benefit they get today. If the workers are responsibly supporting their children on child support, the Obama plan would give those workers a benefit of $1,110. The Obama plan would also increase the EITC benefit for those families that are most likely to be in poverty – families with three or more children.

Minimum Wage: Barack Obama believes that people who work full time should not live in poverty. Before the Democrats took back Congress, the minimum wage had not changed in 10 years. Even though the minimum wage will rise to $7.25 an hour by 2009, the minimum wage’s real purchasing power will still be below what it was in 1968. As president, Obama would further raise the minimum wage, index it to inflation and increase the Earned Income Tax Credit to make sure that full-time workers can earn a living wage that allows them to raise their families and pay for basic needs such as food, transportation, and housing — things so many people take for granted.

Tax Exempt Bonding:Currently, tribal governments cannot issue tax-exempt bonds in the same manner as state and municipal governments. Tribes can issue bonds only for a narrowly defined set of essential government functions. The distinction, unique to tribes as defined by the Internal Revenue Service, creates barriers for tribes wishing to issue bonds to finance economic development projects and build infrastructure like schools and hospitals. Barack Obama supports treating tribal governments as sovereigns and recognizing their right to issue tax exempt bonds.


Education is the key to improving the lives of American Indians and empowering tribal nations to build a better future. While educational policies in the 1970s attempted to reverse past federal policies aimed at eradicating American Indian languages and cultures, there is still much work to be done. Unfortunately, American Indians suffer from some of the lowest high school graduation and college matriculation rates in the nation. We must continue to honor our obligations to the First Americans by providing tribes with the educational resources promised by treaty and federal law.

Indian Language Education:Tribes are struggling to preserve their languages. It is estimated that by 2050 only 20 of the over 500 Native languages once spoken will remain. Research shows that instruction in tribal language increases American Indian academic performance in other areas like math and science. Barack Obama supports funding for Native language immersion and preservation programs.

No Child Left Behind: The goal of the No Child Left Behind Act is a vital goal – ensuring that all children meet high education standards – but the law has significant flaws that need to be addressed. These flaws are especially apparent in Indian country. Unfulfilled promises, ineffective implementation, and shortcomings in the design of the law itself have created countless obstacles for tribal educators. Barack Obama would fund No Child Left Behind and reform the law to better incorporate Title VII, the law’s Indian, Hawaiian, and Alaskan education provision. Obama’s plan would provide greater flexibility in integrating Native languages, cultures, and communities into school programs in a manner consistent with principles of tribal sovereignty.

Early Childhood Education: Research shows that half of low-income children begin school up to two years behind their peers in preschool skills and that these early achievement gaps continue throughout elementary school. Barack Obama supports increasing funding for Head Start, including the American Indian and Alaska Native Head Start Programs, to provide American Indian preschool children with critically important learning skills, and supports the necessary role of parental involvement in the success of Head Start. Obama has called on states to replicate the Illinois model of Preschool for All. Tribes should also be given the opportunity to implement culturally appropriate versions of this program.

OK, originally, it seemed that Clinton had the more comprehensive set of proposals, but now I’m thoroughly impressed. There’s even more from Obama:


An Indian in the White House – Appointment of a National Indian Policy Advisor:Tribes must interface with an increasingly complex array of departments, bureaus, and programs within the administration. As a result, comprehensive American Indian policy has been hard to implement and tribes must spend their limited resources navigating government bureaucracy. The need to foster a coherent approach and organize the efforts of the various agencies is particularly crucial to tribes because of the profound role of government programs in Indian peoples’ daily lives. In order to better serve tribes, ensure that their issues are given proper consideration, and promote a more cohesive approach to Indian affairs, Barack Obama will appoint a National American Indian Policy Advisor to serve as a member of his White House staff and create the National American Indian Advisory Council.

The Advisory Council will be chaired by the Policy Advisor and include the head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the various heads of Indian programs in other executive departments, and appointed individuals knowledgeable and experienced in Indian policy. The Advisory Council will be charged with developing and implementing Obama’s American Indian policy initiatives, and coordinating the activities of the many offices in the administration that deal with Indian affairs.

Agency Appointments: Tribal peoples know best how to best serve their own communities. Obama is committed to appointing American Indians to pertinent government positions who maintain close ties their communities, and possess firsthand experience and knowledge about issues affecting Indian country.

Annual White House Tribal Nations Summit: The federal government’s trust responsibility to the First Americans means more than merely administering programs to help tribal nations develop. The trust responsibility also means maintaining open lines of communication from one government to another. Regrettably, past administrations have failed to or only halfheartedly lived up this obligation. As president, Obama will host an Annual White House Tribal Nations Summit to meet with tribal leaders about how his administration can better serve tribal communities.

On Obama’s website, you can also can sign up for First Americans for Obama, which means that there is a forum for these issues within the campaign itself.

Update: Originally, I took both candidates to task for not mentioning the Trust Fund issue, which the government has refused to come clean about. Turns out that, although he might not have it on his website, Obama did tell Indian country today this:

Furthermore, I firmly believe in the words of Justice Hugo Black that ”[g]reat nations, like great men, should keep their word.” So under my presidency, we will live up to the federal government’s solemn commitments enshrined in treaties with the tribal nations. And I will ensure that we live up to our commitments in ensuring the effective, efficient and honest management of trust income, as this Nation has promised to do, and to equitably redress the errors of the past.

Thanks JennyBravo for the link to that.

The Trust Fund issue is being heard again in the courts. This is what an editorial in today’s New York Times, called The Verdict: It’s Broken had to say about a recent verdict in a case first brought in 1996:

In 1996, Elouise Cobell, a Blackfoot Indian, filed a lawsuit claiming that the government had mismanaged billions of dollars in oil, timber and other royalties held in trust for some half-million Indians. The Indians were given land allotments between the end of the 19th century and 1934, a time when it was government policy to try to do away with tribal entities and reservations. The government held title to the land, and these accounts were meant to collect and disburse the revenues.

The simple question is this: can the government account for the money it held in trust? Judge Robertson’s judgment: “It is now clear that completion of the required accounting is an impossible task.” This, as he points out, is an “irreparable breach of fiduciary duty,” a breach that, in our opinion, is all the more galling because these individual trust accounts have come over time to look like a form of paternalistic fraud.

Even with meticulous oversight, monitoring them accurately would have been a tough assignment. But the government’s failure is not simply sloppy bookkeeping. It is willful neglect, including the active destruction of records and the failure to comply with court orders.

A new hearing has been scheduled to try to find a new remedy. However, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which is in charge of this trust, has for years refused to provide an accounting of these funds, and recently has been accused of destroying documents. The contempt that the Bureau has shown over time is criminal in my opinion.

OK, so Obama has made reference to this, and Clinton has not, which I feel is a major oversight. However, I do feel that both Obama and Clinton should take a very strong stand on this terrible travesty of justice in their proposals, and, at the very least, if elected, appoint a competent manager for the BIA whose continued employment should depend on a full accounting of these monies.

In any case, I am heartened by the attention each campaign has already given to Native American issues.

I hope I’ve provided useful info on how each campaign is addressing Native American issues. Again, I don’t want to join the fracas here, just some info.


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  1. after I added the updates, I became extremely impressed with Obama’s proposals. If you dig farther into his statements to Indian Country today you’ll see he takes this to heart because of his upbringing in Indonesia, where he saw lots of poverty and exploitation.

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