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Activists participate in a protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline March 10, 2017 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Bernie Sanders, Julián Castro Among 2020 Candidates Set to Attend First-Ever Presidential Forum on Native American Issues

"Through our efforts in getting equality at the ballot box for Natives, we have been able to put a little more power behind our voice," said an activist who helped organize the event

Jake Johnson

Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Housing Secretary Julián Castro are among the 2020 Democratic contenders slated to attend the first-ever presidential forum on Native American issues, an event celebrated as an opportunity to highlight oft-ignored crises affecting indigenous communities.

"The people they are going to be talking to are going to be representing Natives in the seven battleground states where a few thousand votes or few hundred votes are going to be the factor," O.J. Semans, co-executive director of the Native American voting rights group Four Directions, which is hosting the event, told Think Progress.

"We've made great strides in the past 19 years to get to this point."
—O.J. Semans, Four Directions

"We've made great strides in the past 19 years to get to this point," added Semans.

The other 2020 presidential candidates who have confirmed they will attend the forum in Sioux City, Iowa—scheduled for August 19 and 20—are Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, author Marianne Williamson, and former Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.).

According to Think Progress, the candidates are likely to discuss healthcare, poverty, voting rights, land protection, the environment, and other issues facing indigenous communities, which have been at the front of ongoing battles against climate-destroying pipelines.

Semans said the goal of the forum is to spotlight "the real issues from the people that have to live them."

"Basically through our efforts in getting equality at the ballot box for Natives, we have been able to put a little more power behind our voice," Semans added. "The only way I would be surprised by any of this is if the candidates didn't show up."

Sanders, Castro, and Williamson each have sections on their websites containing policy proposals to help indigenous communities, Think Progress reported.

"Time and time again, our Native American brothers and sisters have seen the federal government break solemn promises, and huge corporations put profits ahead of the sovereign rights of Native communities," reads the page on Sanders's website titled "Empower Tribal Nations."

"I will stand with Native Americans in the struggle to protect their treaty and sovereign rights, advance traditional ways of life, and improve the quality of life for Native communities," the site reads.

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