At a presidential candidate forum on Native American issues Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT) promoted his ongoing themes of environmental protection, climate change and universal health care.
Sanders was the last of the 11 candidates to address the two-day Frank LaMere Native American Presidential Forum in Sioux City Iowa. He also spoke about respecting sovereignty and improving the federal government’s consultation with tribes on projects like oil pipelines.
When asked specifically about health care, Sanders acknowledged the federal government is not living up to its legal obligation to provide health care to Native Americans.
“And I think we all understand the Indian Health Service is not doing anywhere near what it should be doing,” Sanders said. “As somebody who believes absolutely that health care is a human right for the Native American People and for everybody else, we will reform, fundamentally, the Indian Health Service.”
Sanders also called violence against Native women an epidemic and said addressing it will be a high priority if he’s elected president.
Mark Charles, who’s the only Native candidate, spoke extensively about the Doctrine of Discovery. He says he doesn’t want Native voters to support his presidential bid just because he’s a citizen of the Navajo Nation.
“I don’t want them to vote for me just because I’m Native,” Charles said. “I want them to hear my proposals my policies and vote for me because I’m the best person for the job, but I do want to challenge Indian Country. We’ve been disenfranchised for so long we actually have the power to put a Native candidate on the ballot.”
Gloria Grant Gone, an Omaha Tribe member, was impressed with Charles and said she would consider voting for him.
“I like what he had to say,” Grant Gone said. “I like the historical information and he is knowledgeable. I enjoyed that.”
Running as an Independent, Charles has to get on the ballot in all 50 states. He’s hopeful he can make that happen.