Castro showcases specific indigenous policies at Native forum, but Delaney stumbles
Former HUD Sec. Julian Castro, center, listens to a question at the Frank LaMere Native American Presidential Forum in Sioux City, Iowa, Aug. 20. | Al Neal / PW

SIOUX CITY, Iowa— With a bit of Texan swagger and an ear-to-ear smile, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro made his way across the stage at the Frank LaMere Native American Presidential Forum here on Tuesday, August 20, and was greeted with applause.

Castro began his opening statement by saying “gracias” to all those gathered for inviting him to participate in the first-ever Native American forum of presidential candidates, expressing gratitude for the work put into making the forum possible by organizers, thanking water protectors, and the LaMere family.

“I want to recognize and honor and pay tribute to the legacy of Frank LaMere for his work on behalf of indigenous peoples, and acknowledge the land of the Omaha, Ponca, Dakota, and Winnebago which we are on,” said Castro, making him the only candidate at the two-day event to recognize the Native lands on which modern Sioux City sits.

His opening remarks referred to specific policy plans he has for indigenous people and communities, saying he learned a lot from working with tribal nations during his time at HUD during the Obama administration. He pointed to his People First Indigenous Communities platform—the first platform to specifically address Native American issues by a 2020 candidate.

Marcella LeBeau, a 99-year-old World War II veteran, asked all the candidates about their position on the “Remove the Stain Act.”

The proposal would rescind 20 Medals of Honor awarded to soldiers of the 7th Cavalry who massacred hundreds of unarmed Lakota people, many of whom were women and children, at the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890.

Castro was quick in his response, “I absolutely do support the Remove the Stain Act, and would sign it as president…. America has a shameful history, and it’s one we must confront.”

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He spoke on education, health care, tribal sovereignty, housing, and the epidemic of missing and murdered indigenous women. Castro promised to bring justice to Native women by giving more law enforcement authority to tribal nations to prosecute criminals and through supporting the passage of Savanna’s Act.

An overarching theme addressed in all of his responses and statements, which led to applause after each one, was his need to respect tribal sovereignty.

“I believe an effective administration needs to look like America,” Castro said. “And that’s not always the case, some administrations do it better than others.

“As president, I would set up an office of presidential personnel that would be diverse itself and would reach out to select the best people for appointment who are involved in the issues affecting their communities, including the indigenous communities. I would look to make sure indigenous communities are well represented and that we respect and honor tribal sovereignty and all the agreements we have.”

On housing, Castro spoke of investing in Section 184, a program which makes home loans possible at low-interest rates, to address the issues of homelessness affecting both urban and reservation Native Americans. He also touched upon ending homelessness amongst Native American veterans by coordinating with tribal communities.

“I have a plan to end all homelessness, including veteran homelessness, by 2028, and we can do that by working together,” said Castro.

Castro also said he would appoint Native Americans to various offices in the federal government and court system—all the way to the Supreme Court.

When a question about reforming the Indian Child Welfare Act was brought up, he said he would work with tribal leaders to “fix and strengthen it so Native children can with their families.”

On the topic of immigration, Castro said he would “stop playing games at the border” by ending the Remain in Mexico policy, the “zero-tolerance” approach of the Trump administration, and family separation because there is “no reason children should be sent to sleep on concrete floors.”

Instead, the candidate plans to invest more resources at the border, including translators for all languages spoken, and improvements in finding U.S. relatives of migrant children whose parents were deported. He would also immediately place immigrants not convicted of a crime on a path towards citizenship.

“I have a different view of the presidency, one where all people count,” he said.

Caught in the headlights

Former Rep. John Delaney of Maryland, who bears a striking resemblance to former President Gerald Ford and was the first Democrat to announce his run for the White House, walked onto the stage and, in contrast to Castro, froze like a deer caught in the headlights.

Since his campaign launched, Delaney’s been on the road constantly and has visited all 99 counties in Iowa, but Tuesday was different. It would be the first time the candidate addressed Native American voters.

And like President Ford, Delaney has a reputation for being clumsy with words during campaign events.

He began the afternoon by thanking everyone in attendance and highlighted the importance of having a forum solely dedicated to the issues and concern of indigenous people and communities.

“I think it’s extraordinary that you decided to do this and that your voices will be heard in this presidential election,” said Delaney before taking a seat in the middle of the stage.

With many candidates taking part in the Native forum, similar issues, questions, and concerns were presented to each.

The question concerning the “Remove the Stain Act”—dealing with the Medals of Honor for the Wounded Knee perpetrators—Delaney was the opposite of Castro.

While not a hard question to answer—it would be difficult to imagine any candidate saying no to correcting such a horrific moment in our history—Delaney still found a way to fumble the “softball.”

“The number of innocent women and children who were killed in that battle is stunning,” said Delaney.

LeBeau responded quickly and corrected him, saying: “It wasn’t a battle.” The correction occurred two more times before Delaney caught on.

“It wasn’t a battle, I’m sorry, in the incident, it wasn’t a battle,” Delaney said. “The number of women and children that were killed and massacred in that situation you just described, is appalling.”

In the end, Delaney did say he would sign the legislation as president, a statement which garnered some applause.

Another awkward moment came during a discussion on health care. Before public service, Delaney was health care financier. And while it may give him some expertise in the area, he goes out of his way to present his plan on health care as a path to universal coverage, but unlike Medicare for All, it would leave the private insurance industry in place and create a “public option.”

His plan, which he markets as “BetterCare,” would supposedly enroll everyone under 65 in a new public plan that covers a certain set of basic medical services, comparable to the essential health services covered by Obamacare. If people did not want the public option, they could instead receive a tax credit to buy private insurance. Medicare as it currently exists for seniors would be untouched. He claims the plan would be paid for mostly by maintaining the shared state-federal payments for Medicaid and by ending the unlimited tax break for employer health benefits.

Delaney had a back and forth on his health care plan with Victoria Kitcheyan, Chair of the National Indian Health Board.

Former Rep. John Delaney at the Frank LaMere Native American Presidential Forum in Sioux City, Iowa, Aug. 20. | Al Neal / PW

Kitcheyan asked Delaney, how, as president, would he provide quality care for future generations of Native Americans.

“I would want that the national, universal health care system that I build for all the citizens of this country to be available to your community because I think it would be a better option than what you have now,” Delaney said. “There are alternatives to achieving that, which is to allow it to continue to be an independent, separate system and funding it at sufficient levels. I think either of those is potentially good options for improving the quality of the Indian Healthcare System.”

His answer drew a quick rebuke from Kitcheyan, who said: “Sir, I just have to respond, that would not work for Indian Country, universal healthcare. We are a distinct political nation and please, just put that out of your mind as a solution for Indian Country.”

Delaney went on to clarify by saying that having options available gives people a choice in what’s best for them.

Delaney closed by saying he would be a leader committed to tribal sovereignty and to honoring the obligations and agreements the U.S. government entered into historically.

At the press conference following the forum, Delaney, when asked if he would give a formal apology to the Native American people as president, stumbled again and would not commit to giving a firm yes or no answer, relying on the excuse of not knowing what far-reaching consequences such an apology would have.


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.