Nine Democratic Presidential hopefuls and one independent candidate are gathered in Sioux City, Iowa for the Frank Lemere Native American Presidential Forum. Many Native voters are watching closely from the Wind River Reservation.
"Native people are usually forgotten when it comes to campaigning," said Northern Arapaho citizen Lynette Grey Bull.
While working on Fort Washakie Representative Andi Clifford's 2018 Legislative campaign, Grey Bull said she met many Native people who felt left behind by the American political system.
"There were people that were 50, 60, 70 years old who told me they have never voted in their lives because they don't believe in the governmental system or they've been harmed in their lifetime with assimilation and boarding schools so they just have this ill thought against voting and democracy," Grey Bull said. As a representative with the Global Indigenous Council, Grey Bull worked behind the scenes to organize the forum in Iowa.
At the forum, Presidential candidates are addressing Native voters directly and describing their platforms on issues such as treaty rights and tribal sovereignty. Grey Bull hopes this will help energize some of those former non-voters.
29-year-old Layha Spoonhunter, a citizen of the Northern Arapaho Tribe, has been following the Democratic primary. So far, he says Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren has the most comprehensive platform on Native American issues.
"[She's] talking about revoking permits for the Keystone and Dakota Access Pipelines. That's the first candidate to do that," Spoonhunter said. "First candidate that said she'll reverse the Oliphant case, which would allow us to prosecute non-Indians on Reservations."
When asked about Warren's past claims to Cherokee Ancestry, Spoonhunter said he found them "troublesome at first" but believed that Warren was working to repair her relationship with Native communities. Warren offered a public apology during the forum on Monday.
"Like anyone who has been honest with themselves, I know I have made mistakes," Warren said to an audience of tribal leaders from across the country, describing herself as "grateful" for the dialogue she's had with Native voters in recent months.
Spoonhunter also mentioned Julian Castro and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders as candidates who could be good for Indian Country. During the forum, he'll be watching for how the candidates address Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and issues related to LGBTQ and Two Spirit Native people.
The forum began on Monday and continues through Tuesday evening and is being livestreamed by Indian Country Today. It's hosted by the non-profit Four Directions and named in honor of the late Winnebego Indigenous rights activist Frank Lemere, whose long career included work to expand voting access for Native people.