During the last half of July, local citizens of the Cherokee Nation were on hand during the Republican and Democratic national conventions to raise consciousness about tribal issues as the presidential campaign headed into the dog days of August.
The Cherokee Nation set up a hospitality tent for the Oklahoma and American Indian delegations to the Democratic National Convention at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.
Speaking to the delegates on July 25, Bill John Baker, principal chief of the Cherokee Nation, anticipated a "night and day" difference between the Republican and Democratic conventions. Baker has made known his preference for Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. His mother, Dr. Isabel Baker, served as a Clinton delegate.
Though the current tribal administration may identify more closely with the Democrats, and past chiefs were Republicans, the Cherokee Nation maintains dialogue with the major parties. Cabinet members attended both national conventions.
"We view the Republican National Convention and Democratic National Convention as significant opportunities to show our tribal sovereignty and protect Cherokee business interests as we develop positive working relationships with potential leaders of the next administration, regardless of party," said Cherokee Nation Chief of Staff Chuck Hoskin Sr., who attended the DNC. "These gatherings are not simply about the presidential election. Elected leaders from all levels attended, and we took advantage of that as we were able to meet with and solidify our existing relationships with members of Congress and corporate leaders.
Hoskin said the conventions were like "networking opportunities.
"They can have a profound effect on our unique tribal issues," Hoskin said. "Additionally, we understand the very real opportunity to leverage these two events to establish stronger economic partnerships with industry leaders that can advance the growth of businesses owned by Cherokee Nation Businesses, as well as by individual Cherokees."
Attorney General Todd Hembree was on hand for the RNC in Cleveland.
"At stake in this presidential election is an ongoing working government-to-government relationship and fulfilling treaty obligations with Indian tribes," Hembree said. "For Indian tribes, it's not a binary choice of 'Democrats' or 'Republicans,' but the effort to engage and educate those with influence of our issues in play, regardless of who's in the Oval Office."
Hembree said the Nation and other American Indian tribes understand the relationships with both parties are essential because it can bring positive developments regardless of which is in power.
"We've been forward-thinking in terms of committee appointments and chairmanships in Congress, as well as working with the federal agencies in continuing to fulfill the obligations of the federal government to the country's Indian nations," he said.
Both parties dedicate considerable space to federal-tribal relations in their 2016 platforms.
The Democrats open on the subject of American Indians with "We have a profound moral and legal responsibility to the Indian tribes - throughout our history we have failed to live up to that trust. That is why the Democratic Party will uphold, honor, and strengthen to the highest extent possible the United States' fundamental trust and responsibility, grounded in the Constitution and treaties, to American Indian and Alaska Native tribes."
The GOP platform on Native Americans begins: "Based on both treaty and other law, the federal government has a unique government-to-government relationship with and trust responsibility for Indian Tribal Governments and American Indians and Alaska Natives. These obligations have not been sufficiently honored. The social and economic problems that plague Indian country have grown worse over the last several decades; we must reverse that trend."
Explaining its policy, the Democrats address some specific issues. The platform states the party will "continue to streamline the land-into-trust process," and "fully fund" the Indian Housing Block Grant Program and the Bureau of Indian Education. Support for the Obama administration's Generation Indigenous program "will continue," and the party supports expansion of care through the Indian Health Service.
Touching a topic on which tribes have been particularly vocal, the Democrats state "that the Indian Child Welfare Act is critical to the survival of Indian culture."
The Republican Party platform refers to many of the same issues, but with more nebulosity. No federal indigenous programs are mentioned. The document states: "We respect the tribal governments as the voice of their communities and encourage federal, state, and local governments to heed those voices in developing programs and partnerships to improve the quality of life for American Indians."
It adds: "Just as the federal government should not burden states with regulations, it should not stifle the development of resources within the reservations, which need federal assistance to advance their commerce nationally through roads and technology."
"Republicans reject a one-size-fits-all approach to federal-tribal-state partnerships and will work to expand local autonomy where tribal governments seek it," the platform states. "We support efforts to ensure equitable participation in federal programs by American Indians, including Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians and to preserve their culture and languages that we consider to be national treasures."
But beyond the "Native American" segment of the platform, the GOP included its recurring non-specific wish "to convey certain federally controlled public lands to the states." It has never come to anything, but its restatement fanned concern among some American Indian observers. "Indian Country" is federal land in trust, and several national parks include lands deemed sacred or culturally significant by proximate tribes.
American Indians have expressed skepticism toward the health plan introduced by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. His roadmap calls for repeal of the Affordable Healthcare Act and purchase of private insurance by Native Americans.
The Cherokee Nation administration believes the plan would reduce the 30-year funding agreement that includes the expansion of W.W. Hastings Hospital.
Amanda Clinton, director of communications for the Nation and CNB, attended the Democratic convention. She said the delegation was small, but did not provide an exact number, citing that the delegation was usually split, and accompanied by volunteers who were not employed by the Nation. Spokesperson Julie Hubbard said the expense of sending delegations will not be known until requests for reimbursement are received and approved in the coming weeks.