MESKWAKI SETTLEMENT, IOWA—The gym at the Meskwaki Tribal Center, which is up the road and around the bend from the Meskwaki Hotel and Casino here, was a happy and echoing place. There were 72 people come here to caucus, and 29 of them were people who had not been Democratic voters before tonight. By and large, of course, the big news was unfolding in Des Moines, and Ames, and either one of the Cedars—Falls or Rapids. But this is a place where the issues come to a very sharp point. Democratic candidates have been pitching themselves here throughout the prolonged election cycle just as they have been pitching themselves to indigenous people all over the country. Bernie Sanders blew through a month ago and picked up the endorsements of three tribal leaders. From the Toledo Times-Republican:
“Young people all over the world are looking to the Native American community for leadership. Because what we have learned from the culture of the Native American people is an understanding about sustainability; that you can’t simply wipe out animals, you can’t destroy the water for short-term gains if you want your children and grandchild to lead good lives. Going back to the first year of this country Native Americans have been lied to, treaties broken, land taken and even right now, large corporations are today invading Native American lands excavating for oil,” he said.
It appears to have paid off, here at least. Sanders ran away with the first alignment vote, his 38 votes making him the only candidate to hit the 15 percent needed for “viability.” Andrew Yang was the shocker, coming one vote short. There were nine undecided voters, which was more than any of the other candidates had, so those nine folks got a lot of attention during the midpoint discussion session, and also most of the sheet cake. By the end of the second alignment, Sanders, Yang, and Senator Professor Warren were the only ones with any votes at all, and also the only candidates to qualify as “viable” under the rules of bedlam here in Iowa.
Without question, though, the upset of the evening was the fact that Andrew Yang got as many delegates as did Elizabeth Warren—two—and more than anyone else except Sanders. His supporters here seemed a bit baffled by his success. He had not campaigned here. “He’s young,” said one of them, “and he’s not a politician, so maybe that’s good. And Bernie, you know, he was in the hospital. That comes with age.”
The Meskwaki have a vagabond history replete with forced and unforced migrations all over the upper Midwest. Their story begins with the Algonquian people from northern New York. (Little Known Fact: “caucus” may well derive from the Algonquian for “adviser.” Or it may have come from a WASPish club of Boston bankers. Scholars disagree.) Throughout the 18th Century, they fought against the French in the area around the Great Lakes, during which time the French called them “Renards,” or Foxes. Soon, the French began to refer to them, and the Sauk nation, as the Sac et Fox. (The formal tribal name now is the Sac and Fox of the Mississippi River in Iowa.) In 1832, the United States formally merged the two tribes and shuffled them off to a reservation in Kansas. Some of them stayed behind in Iowa, however, and others began slowly to filter back until the state of Iowa passed a law in 1856 permitting them to stay, which certainly was mighty white of it. A year later, the tribe bought its first parcel of land in Tama County, which is where the Settlement is today, casino and all. The vagabond history, however, lives on.
‘I actually was born in Omaha, Nebraska,” said Christina Blackcloud, a resident of the Settlement who’s running for the Iowa state legislature this fall. “I spent a lot of my younger years, school years, teenage years on a reservation in South Dakota. So, yes, we are everywhere.”
Representative Deb Haaland of New Mexico visited the center late Monday afternoon as a surrogate for Senator Professor Warren. Haaland, along with Rep. Sharice Davids of Kansas, is one of the first two Native women to be elected to Congress. (Watching them embrace on the floor of the House of Representatives when they were sworn in was one of the few political moments of which I was utterly incapable of cynicism.) Haaland is one of the Warren campaign’s national co-chairs, and that makes her the first Native woman to hold that job on a presidential campaign. She spoke to a small gathering in the Meskwaki Nation Museum. “For a lot of my life,” she said, “I was the only Indian in the room. The only Indian in the classroom. The only one on the job site, or wherever. So it was nice to have someone else in Congress who knows what it’s like to be me.
“We’ve been active behind the scenes for a very long time, but I think it’s time for us to step out and support the person we think will be the best president that we can elect. And she [Warren] has been an ally of Indian country for a long time.”
This, of course, inevitably calls to mind the genealogical gotcha that has dogged Warren since she ran against Scott Brown for Senate in 2012. Haaland has no time and less patience for that old trope. “There’s probably a few folks holding on,” Haaland said. “But look, Native Americans are political. We know when we see a good candidate that supports our issues. There’s a huge number of us supporting Elizabeth Warren and I’m sure they will come out.”
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