On July 25th, Julián Castro – one of the twenty-five hopefuls for the 2020 Democratic candidacy – unveiled a new platform to improve the historically fraught relationship between the U.S. federal government and Indigenous communities.
Castro announced, via Medium, his “People First Indigenous Communities Platform,” building on his existing immigration, education, housing, lead exposure, and policing platforms. In his announcement, Castro wrote that the “federal government has repeatedly failed to honor treaty obligations, respect unique government-to-government relationships, and allowed corporations to exploit sacred land for their own profits,” necessitating the government to take active means to repair its history of oppressing Indigenous rights, individuals, and communities.
Indigenous communities as active stakeholders in the federal decision-making
The first item on Castro’s list is to strengthen tribal sovereignty, a concept that the federal government has tended to ignore and violate. Castro’s platform argues that sovereignty can be affirmed through forming a White House Council on Indigenous Community Affairs through which Indigenous communities will be active stakeholders in the federal decision-making processes from which they have been historically excluded.
Next, Castro promised to honor treaties, which the federal government has historically desecrated despite that fact that, as he points out, “Article VI of the U.S. Constitution classifies treaties as the ‘supreme law of the land.” Through such a commitment, Castro vowed to “end tribal homelessness by 2025” and “work with Congress to fully fund the Indian Health Service (IHS) so that Indigenous individuals can seek out mental health care and the opioid crisis will be ameliorated. Additionally, Castro promised to expand Internet access for Native communities as well as educational opportunities for Indigenous folks of all ages.
Honoring treaties would go beyond the expansion of services, Castro continued, writing that “[h]onoring our treaty obligations also includes modernizing tribal consultation requirements to ensure Indigenous communities have input on policies affecting land with traditional religious and cultural importance.” While sacred lands have often been unnecessarily exploited for their resources, Castro said that he would “end the leasing of federal lands for fossil fuel exploration and extraction” as president.
The crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women
Castro also wrote that, if elected, he would “prioritize the crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women… and the human trafficking of native women across the United States” through forming a federal task force comprising of “tribal leaders, public health officials, and federal department officials.”
According to the Indian Law Resource Center, over 80% of American Indian and Alaska Native women have experienced violence, and over 50% of such women have experienced sexual violence. Recognizing the need for immediate and community-based action to achieve justice for these women and to prevent violence towards Indigenous women, Castro’s platform further argues for the “reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act” and the “roll back [of] President Trump’s changes to the definition of domestic violence, to re-include psychological abuse and other non-physical actions.”
Perhaps most importantly, Castro acknowledged that “[w]e can never undo the injustice of our country’s treatment of Indigenous people,” a fact that is often erased by politicians who fail to recognize the ramifications for Indigenous communities of having their land violently seized and their cultural genocide adopted as federal policy. “But as a nation,” Castro continued, “we can live up to our treaty obligations, strengthen tribal sovereignty, and be a serious partner in improving and strengthening our shared destiny.”