Introducing Tribal Sovereignty, Article XIII of the 2020 Platform

On September 23rd, 2019, the Platform, Resolutions and Legislation Committee unanimously approved a proposal to add a new Article to the Multnomah Democratic Party’s 2020 Platform on the subject of Tribal Sovereignty—the area of policy describing how the United States and its states and counties relate to Indigenous tribal nations. Ruth Jensen (Tlingit), a member of the Democratic Party of Oregon’s Native American Caucus and our own Racial Inclusivity Work Group, presented her draft and was met with a discussion that was less of a debate over its inclusion and more of a “How have we been missing this for so long?” Needless to say, we’re glad to have it.

The current version of the proposed article can be viewed here. It’s well worth the read!

One crucial difference between Tribal Sovereignty and other issues in the platform is that this sovereignty depends not on the basis of race but on the unique, political relationship between tribal nations and the United States government. Tribal nations are neither a special interest group nor a subset of counties but territories whose relationship with the federal government is defined by formal treaties and the trust responsibility, our Constitutional duty to protect Indigenous nations.

All of that sounds cut and dry but the reality is, to put it politely, messy. America was built on the exploitation of its indigenous people: not just physically on their land but culturally as well. What we call the “melting pot” of American culture, as great as it is, only exists as it does because the hundreds of cultures that were already here were nearly wiped out. To this day, Indigenous children are still being removed from their homes and placed in non-Indian homes, something perilously close to the United Nations’ definition of genocide. Any history of the United States that glosses over these facts is shamefully incomplete.

Multnomah County, in particular, should be a place that focuses on correcting these problems. The Portland Metropolitan area is the ninth-largest community of Indigenous people in the United States, with 380 tribal nations represented, including the nine that are situated within Oregon’s borders. Even our name—“Multnomah”—comes from the Chinookan name for the Indigenous people of the area. We are surrounded by Indigenous culture in both our history and present day, and yet they remain extremely underrepresented in our politics.

This Platform Article intends to correct that. Here are some of the priorities it will be bringing to the table for 2020 and beyond:

  • Closing racial disparities in health outcomes and educational attainment 
  • Providing adequate funding to implement Senate Bill 13 which “directs the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) to create K-12 Native American Curriculum for inclusion in Oregon public schools and provide professional development to educators”
  • Getting rid of race-based sports mascots which contribute to a hostile learning environment for all students—not only those who are Native
  • Working with law enforcement to close jurisdictional gaps on reservations
  • Sparing no cost to end the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous people and end the removal of Indian children from their homes and their placement in non-Indian homes

This brings the total number of proposed articles in the 2020 Platform to thirteen. While there was originally a tiny bit of hesitation of expanding beyond ten articles (mostly because ten feels like a nice round number), the truth is that the Multnomah Democratic Party has grown so much in the last two years that ten simply wasn’t sufficient. We have so much more involvement from so many people of different backgrounds and areas of interest that our vision must grow to reflect that. With every new perspective, we become stronger.

We owe a debt of gratitude to Ruth Jensen for her amazing efforts, with additional thanks to Beth Woodward, Sally Joughin, Sam Kahl and Bobbi Yambasu for pitching in with encouragement and advice. The 2020 Platform is looking better than ever!

You can help too! There’s still time to give feedback before the Platform Convention in November and we need your thoughts and suggestions.

If you want to help us make a difference for Indigenous communities in Multnomah County and beyond, a regular study group will be forming soon to discuss policy issues and organize lobbying efforts and direct action. You may also be interested in the Democratic Party of Oregon’s Native American Caucus, which can be found on their own webpage or on Facebook.