Sanders Touts Native Issues in Sioux Falls Stop

     SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Bernie Sanders’ visit to Sioux Falls on Thursday, announced just a couple days before his arrival, did not draw as large a crowd to the behemoth Denny Sanford Premiere Center as the Pabst Blue Ribbon Bull Riders had the month before. But 30 minutes before the doors opened, a long line snaked around the event center made up primarily of young adult voters and families with young children.
     Earlier that day, Sanders had visited Rapid City on the western end of the state and the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, which is located in the poorest county in the nation. A dirty white Dodge Aspen in the parking lot was painted over in red with the words “Natives 4 Bernie,” “Native Vote,” and “Feel the Bern.”
     But despite the excitement of the crowd, including chants of “Bernie, Bernie, Bernie,” and Sanders’ introduction as a “rock star without a guitar” — a reference to Paul McCartney’s visit to the Premiere Center a week before — the rally got started on a sour note when Sanders blundered the city’s name:
     “Is Sioux City ready for a political revolution?”
     The formerly supportive crowd began booing. One man muttered, “That’s the same mistake Obama made.”
     Sioux City is 90 miles south of Sioux Falls — in Iowa.
     The tone swung back to positive after Sanders corrected himself.
     Later, when arguing for universal healthcare, he referred to the United States’ neighbor, Canada, as being just “50 miles away.” This drew only good-natured snickers.
     Sioux Falls is about 450 miles from the Canadian border.
     Along with his trademark emphasis on economic justice, he returned to Native American issues throughout the evening. This played well with the crowd, who cheered when he mentioned his visit to Pine Ridge.
     “Unless we transform our relationship with the Native American people, we are not going to begin to address the problems that we face today,” he said.
     South Dakota’s population is about 10 percent Native American, the highest in the nation.
     Sanders tied Native issues to his claim that the Affordable Care Act had not gone “far enough,” referencing the fact that the life expectancy on Pine Ridge and in other impoverished areas is on par with that in developing countries. He called poverty a “death sentence.”
     After emphasizing that his campaign is listening to the Latino, African American, and immigrant communities, he added that he is also concerned with listening “very attentively” to a people “whose voice was almost never heard — and that is the Native American people.
     “All of you know, who have studied two minutes of American history, that from before this country became a country, when the first settlers came here, the Native American people were lied to, they were cheated, and treaties they negotiated were broken,” he said, adding that Americans owed the Native population a “debt that we can never repay.”
     Citing high suicide rates, chronic drug and alcohol use and rampant unemployment, Sanders called for a “fundamental” change in the United States’ relationship with the Native population. However, he did not outline specific steps he would take to that end, nor did he address the tribes’ current problems with the Indian Health System in the state, which has led to the closure of the emergency room on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation.
     Referencing Native Americans’ traditional ties to nature, he brought the topic around to climate change. “And they have always known, from way back when, that if you destroy nature, you are ultimately destroying the human species,” he said.
     He agreed when someone in the crowd yelled “No pipelines!” He noted that he was the first to say no to Keystone, and that he wanted to initiate a carbon tax and end fracking.
     Earlier that same day, local news outlet The Argus Leader reported that the upcoming Dakota Access Pipeline had achieved 100 percent compliance in the state, securing all the permits and easements necessary to begin building. Just a month earlier, a branch of the Keystone spilled 400 gallons of oil in rural South Dakota.
     The crowd began to thin as Sanders addressed foreign policy, his support for unions, women’s and LGBT rights, and the differences between his campaign and Hillary Clinton’s — although those who remained continued to scream their support.
     Sanders did not mention the fact that Clinton’s campaign has already set its sights on November, calling a Sanders nomination a “mathematical impossibility.”
     Former President Bill Clinton heads to Sioux Falls to campaign on Hillary’s behalf next week.
     “We can together win the Democratic nomination if we do very, very well in the next eight states — the last eight states to vote,” Sanders finished, citing recent victories in West Virginia and Indiana, and claiming he had a “good shot” of winning Oregon and Kentucky on Tuesday.
     “We win elections when the voter turnout is high,” he said, calling for South Dakota to strive for the largest Democratic voter turnout in its history.
     With his parting words, he thanked Sioux Falls — not Sioux City.

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