Bullock, Harris, and de Blasio join Native presidential forum via Skype
The family of Frank LaMere at the presidential candidates forum. Al Neal PW

SIOUX CITY, Iowa—Gov. Steve Bullock of Montana closed out the first day of the historic Frank LaMere Presidential Candidate forum via Skype Monday, August 19.

Al Neal / PW

After a brief introduction, Bullock apologized for not being present at the event, explaining to the audience he was needed in Montana for a family commemorative event. Bullock’s 11-year-old nephew Jeremy was killed 25-years ago at a school playground when shot unintentionally by a classmate.

Surrounded by a white wall covered in campaign signs, Bullock thanked the forum organizers and said he was grateful to be allowed to speak at the event.

Bullock touted his experience working with Indigenous communities as the 24th governor of Montana and addressed the health crisis, high suicide rates among Native Americans, direct consultation with tribal governments, violence against Indigenous women, and the Indian Child Welfare Act.

“Whether you’re in Iowa or Oklahoma or Alaska or Montana, you [Native Americans] should know that the next President of the United States is going to listen, is going to consult and is going to work in partnership to make all of our lives better,” said Bullock.

As with other candidates, Bullock stressed his commitment to respecting tribal sovereignty and vowed to take tribal consultation on all Native issues and decisions seriously.

Speaking at length about the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women, Bullock referenced Hanna Harris, a 21-year-old Native woman who went missing and was found murdered in 2013.

“I wish Hanna Harris was unique to the Northern Cheyenne or unique to Montana,” he said.

When asked about the use of Native mascots in professional sports, Bullock said: “We have a lack of moral leadership under the current presidential administration, and as president of the United States, I would like to see us get to a point where these mascots are no longer viewed as acceptable…as I’ve said before, this all starts at the top.”

Following his remarks, Bullock said his campaign would be releasing a Native American policy program in the “upcoming weeks.”

Other than a few glitches and a frozen screen every so often, Bullock was viewed positively. Bullock has been endorsed by the Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council, a group of Native tribes throughout Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming.

The Senator from California

A last-minute addition to the candidate forum, Sen. Kamala Harris faced a reserved audience via Skype—courtesy of a complicated relationship with Native tribes during her time as California’s attorney general.

Al Neal/PW

Co-executive director O.J. Semans of the voting rights organization Four Directions welcomed and introduced Harris saying “she is a candidate that has worked at what is destroying Indian Country.

“Having someone that has the knowledge behind that [legal case studies addressing violence and sex trafficking in girls and women] and being able to work and whether it’s a president, which everyone is hoping for, or whether it’s as a United State senator. Either way, it’s a win-win for Indian Country,” he continued. “We need to learn from what they have been able to accomplish.”

Harris started by saying how she “unequivocally” supports tribal sovereignty, and that it’s been a lifelong commitment.

“There is work we need to do and continue to do about not only restoring tribal land but also acknowledging historical trauma that has resulted of those many years of violence and frankly crimes that were committed,” said Harris. “These were crimes that ranged from murder and rape to theft in profound proportions.”

Harris was quick to throw support behind the Remove the Stain Act, and addressing the climate crisis, saying she will “look to Native Americans for leadership” because they (Native people) better understand “how to preserve it better than most.”

Trouble arrived for Harris when confronted by tribal residents from California who asked why as attorney general, she “denied fee-to-trust applications”—applications which would have restored tribal lands into a trust for the tribes.

“When I was attorney general I had a number of responsibilities including being a lawyer for the governor, and it was in that capacity when the governor, when I was the lawyer for the governor and the governor made decisions about the fee-to-trust applications by California tribes,” she said. “As the lawyer, as the law officer for the governor we had to file those letters but that was never a reflection and has never been a reflection of my personal perspective, and when I have had the ability to independently act, not on behalf of a client, I think my history and my positions are very clear.”

Her response was met with a smattering of applause here and there, with many audience members left unconvinced by her answer—best summed up as “it was just part of the job and I was following the Governor’s orders.”

Harris ended her answer by repeating her belief in the restoration of tribal lands and putting land into trust as “essential to tribal self-determination.”

When asked by forum moderator Mark Trahant, editor of Indian Country Today, about getting better Native representation in the federal judiciary, Harris replied: “We need a new president. And a president who understands this [the issue of judicial representation].

On the protection of water rights, Harris said her policy would be to have tribal consultation with cabinet officials working on climate change, who would not only “receive input but will listen in terms of impact.”

New York, New York


Mayor Bill De Blasio of New York City kept his remarks short.

What stuck out was his repeated desire to learn more about tribal issues and tribal governments.

He said “global warming” needs to be urgently addressed, but rode the fence when it came to protecting water and moving towards clean energy alternatives. He explained he believed in respecting people who work in fossil fuel, while “coming up with a new vision for renewable energy. De Blasio received mild applause after saying “we (the U.S.) have to get away from fossil fuels.”

Two points which gained favor with attendees was De Blasio’s commitment to seek clemency for Native American activist Leonard Peltier, and banning Native mascots, which he said were “morally wrong, divisive, and racist.”

On other major Native American issues, De Blasio was vague in his answers and threw it back to looking for “tribal leadership” in finding the best ways to address their main concerns.


Al Neal
Al Neal

Award winning journalist Al Neal is PW associate editor for labor and politics. He is also the chief photographer for People's World. He is a member of the Chicago News Guild, Society of Professional Journalists, Professional Photographers of America, National Sports Media Association, and The Ernest Brooks Foundation.