This month, for the first time in history, a presidential candidate forum will be held focusing entirely on Native concerns.
At least five Democratic candidates will attend the forum: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (D-MT), author Marianne Williamson, Rep. John Delaney (D-MD), and former Housing Secretary Julian Castro.
The forum, which will take place on August 19 and 20 in Sioux City, Iowa, and will discuss healthcare, poverty, voting rights, land protection, the environment, and other issues affecting indigenous communities, according to ThinkProgress who spoke with the Native American voting rights group Four Directions, which is hosting the event.
“The people they are going to be talking to are going to be representing Natives in the seven battleground states where a few thousand votes or few hundred votes are going to be the factor,” O.J. Semans, co-executive director of Four Directions told ThinkProgress. “We’ve made great strides in the past 19 years to get to this point.”
Native Americans face massive hurdles when it comes to voting rights. Some states, such as North Dakota, have imposed voter ID laws that make it extremely difficult for Native Americans to vote. The voter id law in North Dakota demands that voters have ID cards with residential addresses, but many Native Americans do not have fixed addresses.
There are mounds of problems facing Native American communities that have been mostly ignored by the US government. Native Americans face high rates of poverty, low high school graduation rates, an epidemic of violence that has led to thousands of ignored missing or murdered indigenous women, failing infrastructure due to insufficient funding, housing shortages. One of the largest issues is oil and gas companies threat to Native land with their aggressive construction of oil pipeline projects.
Although invitations were sent to all of the presidential candidates, only Democratic candidates have responded and Bernie Sanders is so far the only frontrunner to confirm he will be there. Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s campaign told ThinkProgress there are “exploring whether it will be possible for her to attend the forum.”
Some candidates are still “hammering out the details” for their campaigns schedule and haven’t confirmed or declined their attendance. Sen. Cory Booker and Gov. Bill Weld have declined the invitation.
“I will stand with Native Americans in the struggle to protect their treaty and sovereign rights, advance traditional ways of life, and improve the quality of life for Native communities,” reads the Bernie Sanders campaign website. So far only Sanders, Castro, and Williamson have a section on their websites dedicated to policy proposals for indigenous communities, though other presidential hopefuls have expressed a desire to help.