Indigenous people have long been asking for United States politicians to simply listen; now, it looks like one is finally bending his ear.
Julián Castro became the first 2020 candidate to directly and comprehensively address the concerns of Indigenous people when he released a five-point plan, the People First Indigenous Communities platform, on Thursday. The rollout was timed just before Castro’s scheduled visit to the Meskwaki Settlement in Iowa this afternoon.
The platform leads with “Strengthening Tribal Sovereignty,” calling for the federal government to respect and uphold its treaties and responsibilities to the 500-plus sovereign nations that call the continent home. While respecting the sovereignty of Native nations has been a go-to phrase for politicians since the 1970s (Nixon was, shockingly, a huge supporter of the self-determination movement), the actual implementation of such policy by the United States government has repeatedly fallen short of that promise.
Much of this has to do with the lack of communication between the Indigenous governments and the U.S.; the Trump administration in particular has been extremely lax about consulting with tribal governments on policy that will affect their people. To remedy this, Castro called for the creation of a White House Council on Indigenous Communities and for the reinstitution of the annual White House Tribal Nations Conference. Castro also called for the passage of the Carcieri fix, a long-overdue bill that would address issues surrounding the crucial land-into-trust process. (You can read up on that here.)
Castro’s plan also calls on the federal government to uphold its treaty responsibilities, highlighting the need to (finally) provide full funding for the embattled Indian Health Service, to defend and uphold the Indian Child Welfare Act, and to end the leasing of federal lands for fossil fuel extraction, among a long list of other initiatives. His plan also features an entire section on combating the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women crisis, which starts by underscoring the importance of the Violence Against Women Act and includes a call to pass Savanna’s Act.
The proposal concludes by calling out the recent voter disenfranchisement efforts seen ahead of the the 2018 midterms and offering his support for the United Nations Declaration On The Rights Of Indigenous Peoples of 2007.
In a word, Castro’s plan is amazing. It addresses nearly every major political and legal issue facing Indigenous people in the United States and offers sensible solutions. It’s also a major step for Native people in the political realm, as this will (hopefully) force the remaining 2020 Democratic candidates to issue detailed plans of their own and, for once, consider this country’s Indigenous population and their issues.