Warren Proposes Policy Overhaul to Support Native Peoples

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., speaks at the Iowa State Fair on Aug. 10, 2019, in Des Moines. (AP Photo/John Locher)

(CN) – Ahead of a forum Monday focused on issues facing Native American communities, 2020 presidential hopeful Sen. Elizabeth Warren promised structural reform to government programs to address the many issues facing Native Americans.

“The story of America’s mistreatment of American Indians, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians is a long and painful one, rooted in centuries of discrimination, neglect, greed and violence,” Warren notes in the published proposal, adding, “Native history is American history – we must be honest about our government’s responsibility in perpetuating these injustices for centuries.”

Warren is scheduled to speak at the Frank LeMere Native American Presidential Forum in Sioux City, Iowa, on Monday morning. The two-day forum will feature nine Democratic hopefuls, though Warren’s appearance is the most anticipated.

She courted controversy and derision after she claimed Native ancestry and accepted a challenge from President Donald Trump in 2018 to take a DNA test to prove it. Although the DNA test did show that Warren has a distant Native American ancestor, she apologized for conflating ancestry and tribal membership and has been dogged by the controversy.

Beginning with her first Senate campaign against then-incumbent Scott Brown, Republicans have accused Warren of using her distant ancestor to gain an unfair advantage in her career. Her ancestry has become a constant trope for GOP attacks and has given her an opportunity to advocate for the issues that most affect tribe members.

As is customary for a candidate whose unofficial campaign slogan is “Warren Has a Plan for That,” Friday’s proposal is very detailed.

Under the banner of “Honoring and Empowering Tribal Nations and Indigenous Peoples,” the proposal focuses on increased funding for tribal programs, fulfilling treaty obligations, ensuring tribe sovereignty and improving communication between indigenous communities and the federal government.

Warren is developing legislation with Rep. Deb Haaland, a Democrat from New Mexico who is a member of the Laguna Pueblo tribe and, along with Rep. Sharice Davids, was the first Native American woman elected to Congress. Called the “Honoring Promises to Native Nations Act” the bill would remove programs from the general appropriations process as a means of ensuring stability, protection from sequestration and inflation, and give mandatory access to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid programs.

“Trust and treaty obligations do no vanish because of political games in Washington; federal funding must no longer vanish for these reasons, either,” the proposal states.

Health care, with a focus on mental health and opioid abuse, is also a focus, as 20% of Native Americans are uninsured.

“Under Medicare for All, coverage disparities for Native populations can be eliminated. All Native people could potentially seek care at fully-funded IHS facilities in tribal areas and with other non-IHS providers in their communities,” according to the proposal.

To underpin these funding priorities, Warren would make structural changes if she wins in 2020. She promises to revitalize a cabinet-level council on Native American affairs that has stagnated under the Trump administration by appointing a cabinet-level chairperson to oversee its work; establish an Office of Tribal Affairs within the White House Office of Management and Budget; create deputy secretary positions in the departments of Interior and State; and explore ways to empower indigenous nations to expand their self-governance.

Warren also proposes a nationwide “Missing Indigenous Woman Alert System” that would be modeled after the Amber Alert System. Missing indigenous women is the key topic of next week’s forum in Sioux City.

Named after Frank LeMere, a prominent civil rights activist who died in June, the forum will feature candidates individually as they respond to questions from a panel of tribal leaders and Native American youth. Marianne Williamson, Amy Klobuchar and Steve Bullock are also scheduled for Monday. Bernie Sanders, Mark Charles, John Delaney, Julian Castro and Bill de Blasio are slated for Tuesday.

The forum will be live-streamed on the Facebook page of the Native American Rights Fund.

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