Native American advocates question 2020 Democrats' commitment

Native American advocates question 2020 Democrats' commitment

Native American advocates are raising concerns over some of the 2020 Democratic presidential contenders' commitment to their issues amid absences at a conference in Iowa next week.

Organizers of the Frank LaMere Native American Presidential Forum told The Hill that a number of top candidates, including former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden faces do-or-die primary in South Carolina Democrats view Sanders as having best shot to defeat Trump: poll Karl Rove: 'Long way to go' for Sanders to capture nomination: 'The field is splintered' MORE and Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisThis week: House to vote on legislation to make lynching a federal hate crime Juan Williams: Black votes matter Clyburn: Biden 'suffered' from not doing 'enough' in early debates MORE (D-Calif.), will not be attending the annual forum in Sioux City.

The forum will take place on Monday and Tuesday after the Iowa State Fair and one day before a number of candidates, including Biden, attend the Iowa Federation of Labor convention.

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While a number of White House hopefuls, including Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersAdvisor: Sanders could beat Trump in Texas Bloomberg rips Sanders over Castro comments Liberal author Matt Stoller: Iowa caucus screw-up was 'Boeing 737 Max of the Democratic Party' MORE (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenJack Black endorses Elizabeth Warren Democrats view Sanders as having best shot to defeat Trump: poll Poll: Biden, Sanders tied in Texas, followed by Warren MORE (D-Mass.), are slated to attend the forum, the absence of the others has raised concerns. 

The issues in question include rescinding Medals of Honor given to American troops who were responsible for the massacre of hundreds of women and children at Wounded Knee Creek more than a hundred years ago, in addition to the growing number of Native American women who are murdered or go missing each year. 

“We want to really drive home why this is so important,” Tom Rodgers, the acting president of the Global Indigenous Council and the whistleblower behind the Jack Abramoff corruption scandal in 2006, told The Hill.

Rodgers went on to say that not attending the event could be a missed opportunity for the candidates in confronting President TrumpDonald John TrumpAdvisor: Sanders could beat Trump in Texas Bloomberg rips Sanders over Castro comments What coronavirus teaches us for preventing the next big bio threat MORE on his "America first" policies. 

"If we're really going to have a discussion about 'America first,' how can you ignore the first Americans?" 

While reparations for descendants of African slaves has been a topic of conversation on Capitol Hill and the campaign trail, Rodgers said that compensation and reparations for Native Americans should also be discussed. 

"We would never, ever want to step on the toes of our African American brothers and sisters, but when you look at the landscape of this country — historical, cultural, geographical — the land was stolen with little or no compensation at all."

"Therefore, this whole examination of what is owed or what is due, don't you think for a moment, perhaps half a moment that there should be a discussion?" asked Rodgers.

In addition to Sanders and Warren, Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharBiden faces do-or-die primary in South Carolina Poll: Biden, Sanders tied in Texas, followed by Warren Poll: Klobuchar leads in Minnesota, followed by Sanders and Warren MORE (D-Minn.), author Marianne WilliamsonMarianne WilliamsonMarianne Williamson endorses Sanders at Texas rally Democrats: The road to kumbaya The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump, Pelosi take the gloves off; DNC wants Iowa recanvass MORE, Montana Gov. Steve BullockSteve BullockStates, cities rethink tax incentives after Amazon HQ2 backlash Democrats redefine center as theirs collapses Democratic governors worried about drawn-out 2020 fight MORE (D), former Rep. John DelaneyJohn Kevin DelaneyNevada caucuses open with a few hiccups Lobbying world The Hill's Campaign Report: Four-way sprint to Iowa finish line MORE (D-Md.), New York City Mayor Bill de BlasioBill de BlasioDe Blasio to Buttigieg: 'Try to not be so smug when you just got your ass kicked' New York attorney general threatens to sue NYC over alleged taxi fraud Bloomberg compared civil libertarians, teachers union to NRA 'extremists' in 2013: report MORE (D) and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro are slated to attend. 

Organizers said Rep. Tulsi GabbardTulsi GabbardPoll: Biden, Sanders tied in Texas, followed by Warren Five takeaways from new fundraising reports for 2020 Democrats Overnight Defense: GOP lawmaker takes unannounced trip to Syria | Taliban leader pens New York Times op-ed on peace talks | Cheney blasts paper for publishing op-ed MORE (D-Hawaii) would have attended if she did not have to report for active duty in Indonesia with the Hawaiian Army National Guard.

The Hill has reached out to the campaigns of candidates who are not scheduled to attend the forum. Biden's campaign and Mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegLiberal author Matt Stoller: Iowa caucus screw-up was 'Boeing 737 Max of the Democratic Party' Biden faces do-or-die primary in South Carolina Democrats view Sanders as having best shot to defeat Trump: poll MORE's team cited scheduling conflicts, while Rep. Seth MoultonSeth MoultonTrump set to confront his impeachment foes Biden lines up high-profile surrogates to campaign in Iowa The DCCC's 'blacklist' protects a white male political status quo MORE's campaign said the Massachusetts congressman would be in South Carolina during the forum. 

The Native American vote could prove to be an important demographic for Democrats in states crucial in the upcoming Senate and presidential races. 

"Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterDemocratic senator: 'The ultimate of ironies' for Trump to hit Romney for invoking his faith Committee on Veterans Affairs sends important message during tense Senate time Democrats cry foul over Schiff backlash MORE [of Montana] is not a United States senator without Native Americans," Rodgers said, naming several other Democratic politicians: "That can be said about [Washington Sen.] Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellThree lessons from BIPA for data privacy legislation Swing votes steal spotlight in marathon Trump impeachment Q&A Hillicon Valley: UK allows Huawei to build 5G in blow to Trump | Lawmakers warn decision threatens intel sharing | Work on privacy bill inches forward | Facebook restricts travel to China amid virus MORE ... that can be said about [former Minnesota Sen.] Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenAl Franken blasts Susan Collins: She'll let Trump 'get away with anything' Bill Press: Don't forget about Amy Key moments in the 2020 Democratic presidential race so far MORE, that can be said about [former South Dakota Sen.] Tom Daschle."

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Polling conducted by Four Directions found that voting-age Native American populations are increasing in states such as Arizona, Wisconsin and North Carolina, which are high-priority for Democrats in 2020. 

Voting-aged Native Americans in North Carolina are projected to top 181,000 in 2020, while Arizona is expected to have more than 324,000 Native Americans 18 or older. 

"You have the control of the United States Senate in play now," Rodgers said.