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Joe Sestak unveils new indigenous rights & sovereignty policies

Our nation is constantly striving for a more perfect union. We cannot get there until we begin correcting past and continuing injustices that are a stain on our collective conscience.

We have a sacred debt and duty to our Native American fellow citizens. Our America must be an America that keeps its promise to its indigenous peoples.

Like many Americans descended from immigrants, I grew up feeling deep respect and reverence for Native American culture and history. Over time I grew to understand how indigenous people of North America are not only a part of America’s past but an important part of our present too, with rich, vibrant, resilient communities across the 50 states and US territories. As I learned more about the modern history of Native Americans, I came to understand just how resilient they have been forced to be, how much struggle they have endured over centuries of mistreatment and marginalization, up to the present day.

As President, I will work with indigenous communities to secure their full rights and sovereignty, and attempt to make amends for the harm done to native peoples throughout our history. I have outlined a detailed set of policy proposals aimed at doing just that.

My priorities are below (read the full paper here):

  • Honor and fulfill treaty obligations — and moral obligations — to Native American peoples.
  • Acknowledge past wrongs committed against Native Americans, and wrongs still being committed.
  • Listen to Native Americans and include their voices in policy decisions.
  • Recognize Native American sovereignty, including by giving federal recognition to all tribes currently recognized by states, and re-considering all others who seek it.
  • Fully fund the Indian Health Service — which, like many of the points here, is and should be considered a treaty obligation) to deal with staff shortages and poor quality care.
  • Dramatically improve infrastructure throughout “Indian Country”, including roads, dams, bridges, potable water, electricity, broadband, etc.
  • Respect and honor Native American sacred sites and religious practice.
  • Protect Native American lands and resources from outside interests.
  • Restore effective leaders to the Department of the Interior who will engage with Native Americans and treat them with the dignity they deserve.
  • Re-institute the annual Tribal Nations Conference at the White House.
  • Pass the RESPECT Act to repeal antiquated laws still on the books that are hostile and discriminatory toward Native American people.
  • Provide more federal support for education in Native American communities, including funds to repair crumbling schools, and full funding for the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE).
  • Pass universal daycare and pre-K for all Americans.
  • Increase funding for language revitalization and cultural preservation programs.
  • Improve justice systems on Native American reservations, including by providing more funding for tribal police and restorative justice programs, and by working with tribes, states, and Congress to fix jurisdictional problems that prevent non-Native Americans who commit crimes on reservations from being brought to justice (among other justice issues).
  • Focus federal attention on the epidemic of violence against indigenous women and girls, and missing women and girls, starting with passing Savanna’s Act to improve coordination and information sharing among federal, state, local, and tribal officials.
  • Work with tribes and states to address the intersecting socio-economic problems that harm far too many Native American people, including poverty, discrimination, lack of opportunity, addiction and substance abuse, other physical and mental health conditions, poor nutrition, sexual abuse, and domestic violence.

For more, read the full paper here. To read all of my policy papers, please click here to check out my “Plan for America.”