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Frank LaMere Presidential Candidate Forum message to Presidential candidates: "Don't forget about First Americans"

Democrats Sanders, Castro, Williamson, Bullock, Delaney and Independent Charles confirmed attendees as of July 25, 2019


MISSION, SD – July 25, 2019 – Four Directions intends to make history in Sioux City, Iowa, on August 19 and 20 with the first-ever presidential election forum focused entirely on the concerns of Native Americans.

Organizers have already confirmed five candidates vying for the Democratic nomination: Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, best-selling author Marianne Williamson, Montana Governor Steve Bullock, former United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro and former United States Representative John Delaney. Independent Candidate Mark Charles, a member of the Navajo Nation, will also attend. Discussions continue with several other campaigns and additional candidates are expected.

“Candidates want to say yes to this event, because they understand voter turnout is increasing dramatically in Indian Country,” said O.J. Semans, co-executive director of Four Directions, the primary organizer of the forum.

The Frank LaMere Presidential Candidate Forum will be held over two days at the Orpheum Theatre in Sioux City. It is named in honor of a Native American rights activist from the Sioux City area, who died in June.

Native-led Four Directions is the nation’s preeminent Native voter engagement organization focusing on our nation’s First Americans. Four Directions has an established record of winning lawsuits to expand voting access and working on reservations throughout the United States to dramatically boost Native voter participation.

In addition to Four Directions and Native Organizers Alliance hosting the forum, most of the country’s major Native American organizations have signed on as co-hosts. These include: National Congress of American Indians, Native American Rights Fund, Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Association, Coalition of Large Tribes, Midwest Alliance of Sovereign Tribes, and United South and Eastern Tribes.

Semans said the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana will be the Lead Premier sponsor for the event and NDN Collective has joined as Lead Underwriting sponsor. Tom Rodgers of Carlyle Consulting has joined as Lead Stage sponsor.

“In a contested primary and a general election that’s likely to be close, there are several states where Native American voters can provide a winning margin,” said Semans. He added it’s a matter of fairness to expect candidates for President to be familiar with issues facing Indian Country. Four Directions, the media and other Native rights organizations are paying close attention this year to candidate positions, and Semans said Native American voters will be better informed than ever when it comes time to vote.

Four Directions has been instrumental where Native American voters have made the difference for Native-preferred candidates in previous elections. An example is Montana. As a result of Four Directions’ litigation in Wandering Medicine vs. McCulloch in 2012-2014 and continued advocacy, Montana now has 13 in-person satellite voting offices on Indian Reservations. These satellite offices have made a demonstrable difference. Last year, for example, Senator Jon Tester won re-election in Montana with just over 50 percent of the vote. In one of the voting precincts serving nearly exclusively Native American voters, Tester won 31 out of every 32 votes of the 2-party votes cast.

“No candidate should take the Native American vote for granted,” said Semans. “But when candidates demonstrate they understand the issues and will work for the betterment of our people and our communities, they can earn our votes.”

At the Frank LaMere Presidential Candidate Forum, representatives of Tribes and leading Native American organizations from across the country will serve on panels composed of Tribal leaders and Native youth, posing questions of candidates and create dialogue.

“This forum isn’t about ‘gotcha’ moments. It’s about ‘get it’ moments. We want candidates to grasp the challenges and aspirations of Indian Country,” said Semans. “At the two nights of candidate debates in Miami, broadcast to a national audience, not one question or one candidate comment addressed Native American issues. Ignoring this forum in Iowa is ignoring the millions of First Americans who are citizens and voters.”

Among the issues expected to be explored at the forum: the scourge of murdered and missing indigenous women, Native infrastructure, Native American health care, Native education and Native economic development.

These and other Native issues are impacted by the United States’ willingness to honor treaty obligations. Treaty obligations and sovereignty will be front and center on August 19th and 20th.

Candidates will also be asked to express their position on H.R. 3467 (Remove the Stain Act), the bipartisan House legislation revoking the 20 Medals of Honor awarded to 7th Cavalry troops for participating in the murders of innocent Native American women and children at the Wounded Knee Massacre of December 29, 1890.

“This forum is a national conversation with Indian Country,” said Semans, who noted the event will be covered by various regional and national media outlets. While a live big six media partner has not stepped forward, the entire event will be streamed live via the Four Direction website, co-host websites, blogs, media outlets and social media platforms.


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