The Neglect of Native Americans in Politics

The Neglect of Native Americans in Politics

Throughout history Native Americans have suffered oppression from white Americans. It has been no different in this latest election period which has highlighted just how lowly they are regarded as an ethnic group in America. Native Americans have been ignored and placated by federal government to a level of unacceptable cultural genocide with next to no progress being made in their civil rights.


Firstly, the position of Native Americans in America must be understood to comprehend why they are not seen as key voters to win to political players. Regrettably, Native Americans have always been vastly ignored, and misunderstood, by American politics. In the 1950’s, the US federal government wanted to assimilate Native Americans to an ‘American Capitalist’ way of life through the process of Termination (eliminating their tribal culture). However, they did not consider that Native Americans were not interested in this lifestyle. The 1924 Citizenship Act first gave all Native Americans the right to vote by becoming American citizens. However, less than 50% of Native Americans actually registered. Assimilation was forcing Native Americans into a political climate that they just did not care for or understand.  Indian reservations (where the majority of Native Americans live) are areas of land managed by the US Bureau of Indian Affairs instead of American state governments.  A misconception from this could be some thinking maybe Native Americans don’t need to be addressed by the main American politicians because they are politically apathetic to it. This would be wrong though.

Native Americans were forced throughout the 20th century to join American society despite the racism and prejudice against them. However, Native Americans are not offered benefits to join this paternalistic system and certainly did not want to be forced into a distinctly European way of life. The ‘Doctrine of Discovery’ is the idea that Europeans rescued Natives from their lack of education, civilisation and ‘correct’ culture. This still colours attitudes towards Native Americans to this day. In 2015, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg used the Doctrine of Discovery to impose property taxes on tribal lands that are returned because they are within an American open market. Even more recently, in 2014, Congressman Paul Gosar stated that Native Americans were still ‘wards of the federal government’ implying they were under the direct patronage and protection of the federal government- something they never wanted to be. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Right was created by the UN in 1966 to respect the civil and political rights of individuals, including the right to life, freedom of religion, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. The US ratified the ICCPR in 1992 but with reservations which meant the effect was not really felt on a domestic level. In 1994, the UN’s Human Rights Committee expressed concern over the lack of compliance in the US with no change to domestic law or obligations undertaken. In 2006, further concern was expressed for the US to review its approach. As of 2013, the US scheduled for examination. The lack of progress shows the lack of interest the federal government have in Native Americans. They are shockingly still largely regarded as second-class citizens, not quite Americans but rapidly losing their own culture. The presidential candidates for this year have a large Native American sized gap in their campaigns which reflects the seeming insignificance of their communities in American society.


A Change in the Tide?

During Obama’s presidency Native Americans received a remarkable amount of representation politically. The formation of the first Tribal Nations Conference allowed tribes to directly be representatives for their own interests to the United States government. Much of Native Americans struggles have been easily ignored by the American media and masses despite constantly losing lands, rights and benefits. Obama offered hope in his investment in Native American youth and Michelle Obama making statements of apology for their suffering at the hands of Americans throughout history to the present still. Unfortunately the future does not look very bright…

With a Trump-Clinton result seeming ever more inevitable, these candidates have barely mentioned Native Americans in their campaigns. It is unsurprising that Donald Trump is not interested in helping one of the largest minorities in America. Native Americans suffer economically, are the most likely to be killed by police (despite the lack of outrage through news or social media for the victims and their communities) and are restricted to smaller and smaller reservations. It is surprising though that Hilary Clinton has not offered much to Native Americans (no visits to Indian Country or adverts aimed at these groups), especially Native American women who are the one of the most abused group in America. The only hope comes from Bernie Sanders. He has focused on Native American communities, visited them and attempted to understand their struggles and issues. Despite his standing down in the presidential race, his endorsement of Hilary Clinton now is encouraging. Hopefully, his work with Native American communities will raise awareness for their struggles and the silencing of their issues.



Whilst foreign policy and relations are hugely important, domestic policy should be considered equally. Native Americans are a domestic entity that tend to be forgotten.  In the past, present and future Native Americans are just not considered American citizens in the same way as other minorities. As a result, they are not fought for in campaigns in the same way.




Elena Rees

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