Democratic presidential candidate Julián Castro introduced a policy proposal aimed at boosting the strength and sovereignty of Native American communities on Thursday.
His People First Indigenous Communities platform seeks to address some of the major disparities that indigenous communities face in health care, education and economic opportunity compared to the total U.S. population.
“For generations, Indigenous communities have been treated as second-class citizens rather than sovereign tribal nations free to determine their future,” Castro said in a statement. “The federal government has repeatedly failed to honor treaty obligations, respect unique government-to-government relationships, and allowed corporations to exploit sacred land for their own profits.”
Some 3 million to 5 million Native Americans live in the U.S., according to the National Congress of American Indians.
Among its many provisions, Castro’s platform proposes giving Native American communities a larger voice in Washington by setting up a White House Council on Indigenous Communities and establishing tribal advisory committees within all Cabinet-level agencies by the end of 2024.
It also proposes additional financial and programming investments in health care, economic development, housing, education, cultural sovereignty and other areas for indigenous communities.
“Indigenous people have been continually subject to cruelty and neglect at the hands of the federal government,” Castro, the former Housing and Urban Development secretary under President Barack Obama, wrote in a Medium article on Thursday. “We deserve a president who will strengthen tribal sovereignty, honor treaty commitments, ensure justice for Indigenous women, and advance tribal-federal partnerships for progress.”
Castro’s proposal aims to promote justice for indigenous women by reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act and creating a presidential task force to address “the crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women,” among other initiatives.
A 2008 study found that women on some reservations were 10 times more likely to be murdered than the national average. According to the National Crime Information Center, 5,712 indigenous women and girls were reported missing in 2016. But only 116 of them were listed in the U.S. Department of Justice’s missing persons database.
The National Congress of American Indians applauded Castro’s plan in a statement to HuffPost.
“We view Julián Castro’s plans as an important first step to addressing our most pressing issues and encourage other candidates to follow suit,” said Kevin Allis, CEO of NCAI.
In February, he appeared to make a punchline out of Native American genocide in mocking past claims of native ancestry by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).
“Today Elizabeth Warren, sometimes referred to by me as Pocahontas, joined the race for President,” Trump tweeted. “Will she run as our first Native American presidential candidate, or has she decided that after 32 years, this is not playing so well anymore? See you on the campaign TRAIL, Liz!”
For many, the president’s all-caps use of “TRAIL” evoked the Trail of Tears, the forced removal of Native Americans from their homeland in the southeastern United States during the 19th century, which lead to thousands of deaths from disease, starvation and exposure.
Besides Castro, no other 2020 Democratic presidential candidate appears to have put forth a comprehensive platform specifically to address the indigenous community. Author Marianne Williamson has a page on Native American justice on her campaign website, which, among other things, calls for returning primary control of South Dakota’s Black Hills to the Sioux Nation, halting construction on the Keystone pipeline and protecting native religious freedom.
This story has been updated with a statement from Kevin Allis.