Bernie Sanders has a remarkable civil rights record- but as with all American politicians, some believe that he has perhaps not paid enough heed to Native American issues. Clyde Bellecourt, a founder of the American Indian Movement and well-known civil rights activist, was the last person to ask Sanders a question during a Black America Forum in Minneapolis.
According to Indian Country Today Media Network, “Bellecourt introduced himself both by his name in his language and his “colonial name” and reminded Sanders and those gathered, of the long struggle of Native Americans to be heard on the national stage. He described his own role and aims in leading Native American people to Wounded Knee in 1973, in an armed takeover of an Oglala Lakota village on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota, site of the infamous 1890 massacre of Lakota men, women and children.“
Video of Bellecourt’s question:
Anthony Newby, the moderator, pointed out that they had recognised the fact that the meeting was taking place on Native land- that Native American issues were not on the table because the stated purpose of the meeting was to discuss Black American issues. Bellecourt replied that “It’s not a black forum, it’s people of color! And I’m one of those colors!”
Bellecourt asked “After 30 years, I worked within the United Nations. The UN finally signed the declaration for rights for indigenous people. I wanna know if you’re gonna honor those treaties. I wanna know if you become President of the United States are you gonna honor the treaties made with Indian people?”
Sanders’ response wasn’t what Bellecourt was hoping for; “The Native American people have gotten a terrible deal from the federal government. I will do everything I can to redress that, absolutely.”
“You still haven’t answered the question!” roared Bellecourt. Sanders appeared unprepared for Bellecourt’s question, but he did announce the creation of a Native American Policy committee a week before the meeting.
Native supporters of Bernie Sanders also pointed out that in his New Hampshire primary victory speech, he had specifically referred to Native Americans, saying, “It is a political revolution that will bring tens of millions of our people together…It will bring together blacks, and whites, latinos, Asian-Americans, Native Americans, straight and gay, male and female.”
Sanders also co-sponsored the Save Oak Flat Act, which would repeal the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange Act. This would prevent the sacred land of the Apaches – and several other tribes within the Tonto National Forest – from being transferred to a mining company.
There was controversy even before Bellecourt took the mic; a woman had accused Sanders of being afraid of saying the word “black.” She also took the opposite stance to Bellecourt’s: that reparations for black people be accounted for separate from “every other person of color.”
“I know you’re scared to say black, I know you’re scared to say reparation,” the woman said. “But it seems like every time we try to talk about black people and us getting something for the systematic reparations and the exploitation of our people we have to include every other person of color … can you please talk about specifically black people and reparations?”
Rock. Hard place. Meet Sanders.
Note: The Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples consists of 46 articles, and was adopted by the General Assembly on September 13, 2007. A whopping 144 states voted in favor, 11 abstained, and four lone nations voted against it. These nations were Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States, though they would later go on to change their vote in favor of it. The United States government has ratified more than 370 treaties with Native Americans over the years – though it hasn’t been keeping its side of the bargain. Land that was promised for aid from the Haudenosaunee was eaten away over the years.