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(Many Paths)
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Bernie Sanders Visits Navajo Nation
by Katherine Locke - Navajo-Hopi Observer reporter
Bernie Sanders (I- VT) discusses issues facing Native Americans March 17 at Twin Arrows. (photo by Patrick Carr - Navajo-Hopi Observer)

TWIN ARROWS, AZ - Bernie Sanders (I- VT) visited the Navajo Nation March 17 and put on a rally at Twin Arrows Navajo Casino Resort before an enthusiastic crowd of thousands of people and addressed Native American issues.

Sanders said there is sadly no discussion that since settlers first came to this country, Native Americans have been lied to, they have been cheated and negotiated treaties have been broken.

"We owe the Native American people so, so much," Sanders told the enthusiastic crowd. "And we are forever grateful that they have shared their culture, that they have shared their respect for the environment with us."

Sanders said in many cases the first Americans still live on ancestral lands, which they have called home for thousands of years while others live on lands where they have been moved forcibly by federal policies throughout history. And he said Native Americans have not been heard on issues that impact their communities and have instead been told what to do, while they are not allowed to be involved in the process.

"Despite the existence of negotiated treaties, which coerced tribal nations into ceding, as we all know, millions of acres of their homelands to the United States in exchange for guaranteed rights - many of those rights have not been upheld," Sanders said. "Despite past and ongoing mistreatment of Native Americans, including federally sanctioned assimilation through boarding schools, Native Americans have maintained possession of cultural and natural resources today that are the key to the Indian country's bright future."

Sanders said the United States government has a duty to ensure equal opportunities and justice for all of its citizens, including Native Americans.

"Let us be honest and acknowledge that we are not doing that today," he said.

Sanders said he has learned of the challenges Native Americans face from his travels to many tribal nations across the country and talking to tribal leaders.

"Native Americans continue to face appalling levels of inequality and systematic injustice," he said.

He said that today in America, one in four Native Americans is living in poverty. The high school graduation rate is 67 percent, the lowest of any racial demographic group. The second leading cause of death for Native Americans between 15 and 24 is suicide.

"That speaks to incredible despair," Sanders told the crowd. "It's important that we lay this out because without the knowledge we cannot go forward."

Sanders continued - one in three Native American women will be raped in her lifetime, most of the offenders are non-Native. Most of the programs dedicated to the tribal nations are underfunded, which has led to inadequate housing, healthcare and education and insufficient law enforcement. Native Americans have a lower life expectancy and higher rates of uninsured than the population at large, and even those who have health coverage have difficulty accessing the healthcare they need.

"Exacerbating the troubles of Indian country is a failure to understand and support the principles of self-determination," he said.

Sanders said during his 30 years in Congress, he and others have worked to confront challenges facing the Native American community and to create opportunities for them. He has opposed fracked gas and tar sands pipelines like the Keystone Pipeline and a move to more sustainable practices like solar, wind and geothermal. He recently introduced the 'Save Oak Flat' bill in the Senate.

"The sacred places of our Native American communities cannot and must not be sacrificed for the profits of mining interests," Sanders told the cheering crowd.

He said that as a nation, the U.S. needs to move toward more tribal sovereignty and tribal jurisdiction in prosecuting criminal acts committed on tribal lands, regardless of the race of the perpetrator and that tribal nations need more control and investment in tribal housing.

"We need to recommit the federal government to honor the treaties and statutes that are at the core of the trust relationship," Sanders said. "Washington should never act on issues of importance to the tribes without being in consultation with them."

Finally, Sanders said the federal government must act to protect Native American cultures and that tribal nations must be empowered by providing resources to protect and revitalize indigenous languages, religions, cultures and traditions.

"The culture of the Native American people is so rich and so extraordinary that all of us will gain from preserving and enhancing that culture," Sanders said.

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