- By Ari Amehae
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Now a two-candidate race to challenge Donald Trump for the White House, the Democratic presidential primary contest arrives in Michigan with all eyes on the swing state for mini-Super Tuesday. Of the six states casting ballots on Tuesday, Michigan, the territory of eleven federally recognized Indian tribes, is the biggest electoral prize with 125 delegates.
The arrival of Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders in Michigan coincides with the latest wave of action in the national Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women awareness campaign. New billboards are being raised statewide, beginning in Grand Rapids, the state’s second largest city. Led in Michigan by the Native Justice Coalition, the MMIW billboard campaign was initiated by the Global Indigenous Council and Nation Unsevered in January 2019. The three organizations continue to partner in Michigan, now joined by the Gathering Thunder Foundation and Grand Valley American Indian Lodge.
The billboards first appeared in South Dakota, supported by the Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Association and Lower Brule Sioux Tribe, and have since extended across Indian Country, first reaching the Great Lakes region last August.
“As a grassroots Native-led coalition we have been a part of the incredible growth and awareness building that has been taking place in Michigan and the Great Lakes. The national and regional collaborative effort of the billboards has sparked community action, marches, and prayer vigils. It is also inspiring many to take action, speak out, and do what they can do on a local level. Through each effort we are contributing to changing the course of history while bringing justice to our people and communities,” said Cecelia Rose LaPointe, founder and executive director of the Native Justice Coalition.
The day after his stunning Super Tuesday comeback, one of the first acts of the Biden Campaign was to issue a “Commitment to Indian Country” memo, listing the Vice President’s priorities for the indigenous community, prominent among them “tackling the crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.” In a meeting with the Global Indigenous Council before the Nevada caucuses, Biden emphasized that the MMIW tragedy was “an absolute passion and legislative priority” for him. The Global Indigenous Council was the first national indigenous rights organization to endorse Biden on February 21. The former Vice President has since racked up an array of high-profile endorsements, including Michigan’s present and former governors, Gretchen Whitmer and Jennifer Granholm.
The Biden Campaign has both supported and participated in Somebody’s Daughter, the MMIW documentary that since its world premiere at the Four Directions Presidential Forum in Las Vegas, January 15, has trended on YouTube, received rave reviews, and widespread support and testimonials within the indigenous community, from the likes of Poet Laureate of the United States, Joy Harjo, Oscar-winner Wes Studi, NARF Founder John Echohawk and internationally renowned author and environmental defender of the sacred, Winona LaDuke.
Vice President Biden’s MMIW platform reflects the recommendations made by tribal leaders in Somebody’s Daughter that were formulated in consultation with the Global Indigenous Council.
“I’ve spent my entire career working to end violence against women. In 1990, I wrote the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), and fought for it to be passed four years later. I’m proud to have fought for tribes’ rightful authority to protect Native women from abuse, a battle we won in 2013, when we got the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization to recognize tribes' inherent power to exercise special criminal jurisdiction over non-Indian offenders who commit domestic violence, dating violence, or violate a protection order,” explained Biden.
Senator Sanders arrives in Michigan needing a repeat of his 2016 primary victory to stem Biden’s growing momentum. On the campaign trail, Dr. Jane Sanders has largely represented the senator on the MMIW issue. In the Great Lakes region, Jane Sanders appeared at the Minnesota American Indian Center and participated in a MMIW march with indigenous community members on February 15.
As previously reported in Native News Online, Senator Sanders online campaign platform lists “Legalizing Cannabis” above his priorities for tribal nations, which is 29th on that list. Specifically on the MMIW crisis, Sanders cites, “Reauthorize and expand the Violence Against Women Act to provide critical resources to women in Indian country and allow all tribes to prosecute non-Native criminals.” While serving in the US Senate, VAWA was one of Biden’s signature legislative achievements.
Predictably, these facts inspired the now-customary online wrath of a segment of Senator Sanders’ supporters. After suspending her presidential campaign, Senator Elizabeth Warren spoke openly of the “really ugly stuff that went on” when she was targeted by the so-called “Bernie Bros” and Senator Sanders reaction to their antics. “We are responsible for the people who claim to be our supporters and do really dangerous, threatening things to other candidates,” said Senator Warren.
Warren, who in the US Senate, has been a valuable ally in the struggle to secure meaningful MMIW legislation, has been subject to attacks by one of Sanders’ highest profile supporters and Michiganders, filmmaker Michael Moore.
In one of his “Rumble” podcasts, entitled “The Sad Downfall of Elizabeth Warren,” Moore said Warren had a propensity to “embellish the truth” and repeated online anti-Warren tropes, including her claims of indigenous heritage. Moore was apparently compelled to attack Warren after she confirmed that Senator Sanders had suggested to her that a woman could not defeat President Donald Trump. Moore, who was not party to that conversation, insisted Warren’s account was a “malicious lie.”
Moore claimed Warren denied indigenous people employment opportunities by her claims of Native heritage, an allegation debunked by The Boston Globe. Warren apologized for “the harm” to the Native community from her oft-debated assertions during the Four Directions Native American Presidential Forum in Sioux City, Iowa. Congresswoman Deb Haaland, one of only two Native American women elected to Congress, endorsed Warren for President, and felt Warren “was merely looking to find a connection to her past.”
The indigenous community remains split on Senator Warren’s intentions and DNA, but Cecelia LaPointe’s opinion of Michael Moore has little ambiguity.
“I have my thoughts on Michael Moore. He has done nothing for Michigan Native communities. Like many colonial white liberals he has avoided Indian Country. This critique is not an invitation to work with us,” summarized LaPointe, whose Native Justice Coalition is described as “a Two-Spirit, and sober led grassroots organization based in Anishinaabe Aki (Michigan).”
Moore cast similar shade toward Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Senator Amy Klobuchar on national TV after they suspended their presidential campaigns and endorsed Vice President Biden on the eve of Super Tuesday. On exiting the race for the White House, Mayor Pete, who has also publicly supported Somebody’s Daughter, called MMIW “an unconscionable human rights emergency.” Senator Klobuchar previously backed the MMIW billboard campaign.
“I believe that this epidemic, and how we decide to address it, cuts to the very core of how we measure ourselves as a society. In 2014, at the White House Tribal Nations Conference, I promised that I would stand by your side in this fight. In 2020 and beyond, I will keep that promise, and join you hand in hand to end this epidemic,” reaffirmed Vice President Biden.
Somebody’s Daughter national screening schedule available at www.somebodysdaughter-mmiw.com
Photos courtesy Alter-Native Media and I See You Photography.