Bernie Sanders is the only presidential candidate with a plan to empower Native Americans

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Sanders addresses Native American concerns at Arizona rally

Bernie Sanders' presidential hopes look all but dashed heading into the "Western Tuesday" primary elections. His opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, holds a near-insurmountable 760-delegate lead over the Vermont senator, and looks to widen the gap with wins in Arizona, Utah and Idaho, on Tuesday.

But as the remaining candidates ride west this week, it's worth noting their respective plans to address the challenges facing Native Americans — a segment of the population with strong representation in all three states. Turns out, there's not much to see: The only candidate with an articulated plan for America's indigenous peoples is Sanders.

"Native Americans are the first Americans, yet they have for far too long been treated as third class citizens," Sanders' campaign page reads. "The United States must not just honor Native American treaty rights and tribal sovereignty, it must also move away from a relationship of paternalism and control and toward one of deference and support."

Bernie Sanders Is the Only Presidential Candidate With a Plan to Empower Native Americans
Bernie Sanders greets supporters in Flagstaff, Arizona.
Source: Ricardo Arduengo/AP

Here are excerpts from some of the plans he outlines:

Supporting Tribal Sovereignty and Tribal Jurisdiction: Tribes must have the ability to prosecute non-Native people who commit crimes on tribal land, and have greater jurisdiction over prosecuting all crimes, including family disputes. Bernie will fight to provide Tribes with the resources for effective law enforcement and tribal courts ...

Protecting Sacred Places and Native American Cultures: Native Americans must be empowered to maintain and pass on traditional religious beliefs, languages and social practices without fear of discrimination or suppression ...

Fighting Climate Change and Promoting Environmental Protection: ... In the first 100 days as president, Bernie will convene a climate summit with the world's best engineers, climate scientists, policy experts, activists and indigenous communities to chart the best strategy against climate change. Bernie's climate plan calls for an end to fracking for natural gas and mountaintop removal coal mining.

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Bernie Sanders is the only presidential candidate with a plan to empower Native Americans
A supporter sports a t-shirt with a montage of photographs of Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont and 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, during a mock caucus at Drips coffee shop in Council Bluffs, Iowa, U.S., on Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2016. Hoping to persuade undecided Democrats with just a week until the Iowa caucuses, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders took on some of the questions that have most dogged their candidacies, from trustworthiness and e-mails to feasibility and socialism. Photographer: T.J. Kirkpatrick/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Ben Cohen, left, and Jerry Greenfield, co-founders of Ben & Jerry's Homemade Holdings Inc., talk to supporters during a mock caucus at Drips coffee shop in Council Bluffs, Iowa, U.S., on Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2016. Hoping to persuade undecided Democrats with just a week until the Iowa caucuses, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders took on some of the questions that have most dogged their candidacies, from trustworthiness and e-mails to feasibility and socialism. Photographer: T.J. Kirkpatrick/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Audience members look on as Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks during a stop at the United Steelworkers Local 310L union hall, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2016, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Max Knauer, of Des Moines, Iowa, waits for Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., to speak at a stop at the United Steelworkers Local 310L union hall, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2016, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Kenny Jackson of Pleasantville, Iowa listens as Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. speaks during a stop at the United Steelworkers Local 310L union hall, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2016, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
A Muslim woman holds a sign for Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., at a campaign event on the campus of University of Northern Iowa Sunday, Jan. 24, 2016, in Cedar Falls, Iowa. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
A man listens to Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., with a sticker on his hand at a campaign event Sunday, Jan. 24, 2016, in Independence, Iowa. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
A woman wears a shirt supporting Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., at a campaign event on the campus of Upper Iowa University Sunday, Jan. 24, 2016, in Fayette, Iowa. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
A supporter of Democratic Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders listens during a campaign event at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, Iowa, January 24, 2016, ahead of the Iowa Caucus. / AFP / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JANUARY 22: A supporter of presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., shows off buttons during a campaign rally at Bedford High School in Bedford, N.H., January 22, 2016. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - JANUARY 22: Supporters of presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., listen to him speak during a campaign rally at Bedford High School in Bedford, N.H., January 22, 2016. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
BIRMINGHAM, AL - JANUARY 18: Cassidy Lamb waves a sign before Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) arrives to a campaign rally at Boutwell Auditorium, January 18, 2016 in Birmingham, Alabama. Sanders spoke to a capacity crowd of around 5,000 supporters. (Photo by Hal Yeager/Getty Images)
A sign supporting Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., is propped against the wall next to water fountains at a campaign event, Saturday, Jan. 23, 2016, in Maquoketa, Iowa. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
An attendee holds a sign as Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks during a campaign stop at Bedford High School, Friday, Jan. 22, 2016, in Bedford. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
A supporter walks with a poster depicting Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., as Sanders speaks at a town hall at the Orpheum Theater in Sioux City, Iowa, Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2016. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Signs lean up against a wall as Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. speaks at the Fort Museum Opera House in Fort Dodge, Iowa, Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2016. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Benjamin James Hall Jr. of Bellevue, Neb. wears a shirt in support of Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., as he speaks at a county meeting at U.M.B.A. Hall in Pottawattamie, Iowa, Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2016. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
A supporter of Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., waves a drawing of Sanders's face during a campaign stop, Monday, Jan. 18, 2016, in Birmingham, Ala. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
MARSHALLTOWN, IA - JANUARY 10: Marc Daniels, of Springfield, Illinois, travels from one campaign event to another selilng what he calls 'Presidential Yarmulkes.' He is wearing a yarmulke printed with the phrase, 'Bernie Sanders 2016,' in Hebrew. Daniels was a guest at a campaign event for Democratic presidential candidate and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) on January 10, 2016 in Marshalltown, Iowa. Sanders drew an overflow crowd to the 600 person capacity meeting room of the Best Western Regency Inn in Marshalltown. Both Republican and Democratic presidential candidates have been making appearances at events across Iowa to build support in advance of the 2016 Iowa Caucuses. (Photo by Charles Ledford/Getty Images)
BURLINGTON, VT - JANUARY 07: A Bernie Sanders supporter holds up a pair of 'Bernie Briefs' in a local bar on January 7, 2016 in Burlington, Vermont. The line to see Republican Party presidential candidate Donald Trump's campaign rally wrapped around the venue and down multiple streets and multiple groups of protesters were. (Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images)
DES MOINES, IA - NOVEMBER 14: John Jarecki wears a puppet of Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) to show his support for the candidate prior to the start of the Democratic presidential debate at Drake University on November 14, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa. The debate will be the second for the democratic candidates seeking the nomination for president. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
A woman wearing a hat with a sign in support of Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont and 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, stands at a rally ahead of the Democratic presidential candidate debate at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, U.S., on Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015. The second Democratic debate, hosted by CBS News, KCCI and the Des Moines Register, is the Democratic National Committees only sanctioned debate in Iowa prior to the states first-in-the-nation caucuses on Feb. 1. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
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Five candidates remain in the race for president today: Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, businessman Donald Trump, Clinton and Sanders. Of those five, only two — Clinton and Sanders — have anything resembling a plan to address racial inequality in the U.S.

But while Clinton's plan deals mostly with issues foregrounded by the movement for black lives, including securing voting rights and ending the era of mass incarceration, she only mentions Native Americans in the context of these broader racial justice concerns. Sanders, meanwhile, has an entire section on his "Issues" page dedicated to "Empowering Tribal Nations."

Bernie Sanders Is the Only Presidential Candidate With a Plan to Empower Native Americans
Sanders greets supporters in Flagstaff, Arizona.
Source: Ricardo Arduengo/AP

From a numerical standpoint: Indigenous people are not a huge portion of America's voting public. Native Americans and Alaska Natives make up just 1.2% of the population, the smallest portion of any group counted by the U.S. Census, barring Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders.

But the long and brutal history of anti-Native violence in the U.S. — along with that they are, in fact, the original Americans — makes whatever happens to them a de facto referendum on the state of the union. And right now, they face a staggering number of disparities, especially pertaining to health.

Aside from facing poverty, gendered violence and police violence victimization rates much higher than the general population, Native people are also among the most at-risk for diabetes, alcoholism, infant mortality and suicide, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health.

Bernie Sanders Is the Only Presidential Candidate With a Plan to Empower Native Americans
Sanders speaks to supporters in Flagstaff, Arizona.
Source: Ricardo Arduengo/AP

But despite Native Americans' small population size, Sanders has dedicated a deliberate chunk of his time speaking to tribal concerns. He has visited Navajo Territories in Arizona, spent time with tribal leaders in Kansas and even co-sponsored a bill — the Save Oak Flat Act — designed to stop the transfer of sacred Native lands in Arizona's Tonto National Forest to foreign corporations, who plan to turn it into a copper mine.

As Sanders' presidential aspirations grow further and further out of reach, it remains remarkable that he's the only candidate to have specifically addressed Native concerns. That ignoring indigenous issues is a viable route for any presidential candidate speaks to how marginalized Native communities really are, and how far the U.S. has to go toward a truly equitable future.

h/t Indian Country Today Media Network


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