Sen. Elizabeth Warren released a lengthy plan Friday aimed at helping to close income and health disparities faced by Native Americans, expand native criminal jurisdiction and honor long-standing promises and treaties.
“We must stand united with tribal nations and indigenous peoples to ensure that Native voices are heard and their rights are respected,” the Massachusetts Democrat wrote. “With real commitment, and with real structural change, we can write a new story.”
The proposal is aimed at addressing problems in a community particularly politically sensitive for Warren. Her history with Native Americans has been fraught since her 2012 Senate campaign. During that race she was criticized for listing herself on various forms as Native American over two decades as a law professor. Warren said she did so out of a belief that she had Cherokee and Delaware ancestry; she apologized shortly before she entered the presidential race.
President Trump frequently refers to Warren with a derisive slur: “Pocahontas.” At a rally Thursday night in New Hampshire, he said he could “easily revive” the term as he noted that she is “rising” in the Democratic nomination contest. Warren’s attempts to move past the issue last year by releasing a DNA test that showed she had distant Native American relatives backfired, creating worries among many Democrats that she would have difficulty beating Trump.
Nevertheless, Warren’s campaign has created momentum in the Democratic primary in part by releasing a steady diet of meaty policy proposals aimed at taking on major problems in areas such as the economy, income inequality, child care and trade. She released the new plan ahead of a Native American presidential forum she plans to attend Monday in Iowa.
Though large sections of the proposal explain how many of Warren’s other plans would apply to native communities, Warren does include a slew of new ideas.
One seeks to fix issues outlined in a U.S. Civil Rights Commission report released in December that was highly critical of the federal government’s treatment of native people over the past two centuries. Federal failings over that time period are “at least in part” why native communities “rank near the bottom of all Americans in health, education, and employment outcomes,” the report said.
For this portion of the plan, Warren worked with Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.), one of the first Native American women to be elected to Congress and a recent backer of Warren’s presidential campaign. The proposal includes taking federal money for many native programs out of the regular appropriations process to ensure, as Warren puts it, “predictable, guaranteed funding.”
The plan includes creating a Cabinet-level White House Council on Native American Affairs, reviving and elevating a body that was created under the Obama administration, along with putting more money into infrastructure including roads, drinking water and power systems and improving banking systems.
Warren’s plan also spotlights what activists see as a massive problem with criminal justice, addressing the inability of Native American authorities to prosecute nonnatives on tribal land. Warren said the dynamic has “created an atmosphere of impunity” that has allowed nonnatives to escape accountability. Warren would expand native jurisdiction so that it applies to all people committing crimes on tribal lands and increase sentencing authority for officials there.
And the plan would require the federal government to consult with tribes in most cases before making decisions about their land. She would restore protections to Bears Ears National Monument, which Trump reduced by 85 percent, and revoke permits to the Keystone XL and the Dakota Access pipelines.
Unlike most of Warren’s proposals, these did not include a cost estimate or a mechanism to pay for the increased funding she outlined.