Flagstaff Rally for Bernie Sanders Draws Thousands, Spotlights Native American Issues | “(Sanders) is the very first presidential candidate to step foot on our sacred land. No other candidate has done this ever..."
Nearly 3,000 people lined the sidewalks around the Twin Arrows Casino in Flagstaff on Thursday to hear what Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders had to say. With a capacity of only 900 people in the main ballroom, many Bernie supporters only made it as far as the casino lobby where they listened to the senator from Vermont’s speech over speakers.
The “A Future to Believe In” rally hit many of the same talking points Sanders has been hammering home throughout his campaign. Sanders talked about vote suppression and how the U.S has the lowest voter turnout of any county on earth, the “rigged economy” with the top 1/10th of 1% having as much wealth as the bottom 90%, and his plans to create tuition free public colleges and universities, a universal healthcare system, and raise the minimum wage to $15 a hour. But what made this rally different from others Sanders has hosted was the focus on Native American issues.
Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye opened the rally with a speech and acknowledged that the senator was the first candidate to come to the Navajo Nation,
“(Sanders) is the very first presidential candidate to step foot on our sacred land. No other candidate has done this ever. That says a lot about this presidential candidate to come and stand on Indian land, in Indian country.”
Begaye went on to say he met with Sanders before the event and presented him with gifts while discussing the relationship of the federal government with tribal governments,
“We wanted the senator to understand there is government to government relationship, that there is a treaty that the government honors, that there’s a trust obligation that exists, and we need a president that understands that and will honor and respect that.”
The Navajo Nation President concluded his speech by talking about what he wants in a presidential candidate,
“We do not want a candidate that will shred our treaties. We want a candidate that will honor the color of our skin, it doesn’t matter what color it is, and also to be able to uphold the sacredness of being able to speak in your own language. Because every language is sacred and the Navajo Nation language won a war!”
After a prayer in Navajo, Bernie Sanders came to the stage to an uproarious cheer from the crowd. About 15 minutes into his speech, Sanders started to address Native American issues, beginning with the atrocities committed against indigenous people from the beginning,
“There is no debate, sadly no debate. From day one, from the first time settlers came to this country the Native American people have been lied to. They have been cheated and negotiated treaties have been broken. We owe the Native American people so, so much.”
Sanders then went on to discuss the high poverty rate among Native Americans, citing that 1 in 4 Native Americans live in poverty, and the low graduation rate among Native American youth. A somber mood fell over the crowd as the senator brought up the fact that the second leading cause of death between Native Americans ages 15-24 is suicide and that 1 in 3 Native American women will be raped in their lifetime, most of the time by non-native offenders.
The Democratic presidential candidate pointed to inadequate housing, healthcare, education, and law enforcement as reasons why tribal communities are facing such hardships, but Sanders also put the onus on the shoulders of the federal government,
“The United States government has a duty to ensure equal opportunities and justice for all of its citizens, including our first Americans. Let us be honest and acknowledge that we are not doing that today.”
Sanders said, if elected, his administration would fight to increase tribal sovereignty, invest in Native American housing, and protect and revitalize indigenous languages, traditions, and religions. Sanders concluded by saying that protecting the Native American culture is the key to a successful future,
“Despite past and ongoing treatment of Native Americans, including federally sanctioned assimilation through boarding schools, Native Americans have retained possession of cultural and natural resources today that are the key to Indian country’s bright future.”
After the rally, Lake Powell Communications talked with Larry and Cecilia Marek, a brother and sister who brought a #NativeLivesMatter sign to the rally, about how they thought Sanders covered issues pertaining to Native Americans.
“I thought he was pretty well versed on the issues. He brought up the fact that we need to honor the treaty rights, he brought up the fact that we need to have members from our own tribe from all over the nation be a part of executive decisions which is not what’s happening now.” Larry said. His sister, Cecilia, added that she was pleased the candidate brought up one issue in particular,
““I especially liked that he brought up indigenous women and violence against indigenous women. Right now that’s a really big issue because there are a lot of indigenous women missing, murdered, raped, sexually assaulted, and a lot of it goes along with the pipeline, the fracking, those (work) camps are committing violence against indigenous women on indigenous land. And we cannot do anything about it because of federal jurisdiction. So I really appreciated that he brought up that tribes need to have sovereign rights in order to be able to persecute those criminals on Indian land.”