As political junkies everywhere cringe while watching the reality-TV show that has become our presidential election cycle, much of America has either tuned out or tuned up.
That is not the case for Chase Iron Eyes, the indigenous man from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe running for Congress in North Dakota.
I caught up with him to pick his brain. I discovered that he likes wóžapi with his frybread, ‘in moderation’ he said, he studied Indian Law, was part of the Occupy movement, and he is passionate about you and me.
Is it important for Natives to run for high public office? If so, why?
Yes. It’s just as important as running for office for your tribal nation. It’s part of our evolution. It dates all the way back to the tribal nations in the East who signed the first treaties with the government. We are still free and independent nations. Sovereignty and the right to self-determination isn’t something that’s given by any man or nation. Sovereignty and self-determination inhere tribal nations responsibilities to the land, waters, and the universe. It’s our legacy as caretakers of this earth. We have to add our voice to the world stage.
You talk about the market crash of 2008, lobbying, and ‘big money’, but many Natives don’t seem to understand or care about politics. How can you get them to understand the urgency?
I don’t know that we have to get them to understand, but those who do understand it need to step up. Stop sitting back and thinking we’re always going to get to go to the grocery store or buy gas we can afford. I grew up in poverty and never cared about politics or the market. I found out that the people who are leading us are selling us out to big money. Natives don’t vote- well, we do, but we don’t vote as a block. If we voted in state and federal elections at the rate we vote in tribal elections, the candidates would have to take us serious. Right now, they can choose to ignore us. They don’t lose much. The only voice we have are rallies and protesting. We’re seeing this right now. Many people are going to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia to protest. As leaders, we need to hold each other accountable.
Do you think it’s getting better?
Starting with Obama, we had a record number of Native people voting. This year, we have a record number of Native candidates running. In 2012 in North Dakota, they made it law that unless you have a physical address on your I.D., you can’t vote. That discriminates against Natives because we’ve always had P.O. boxes on the reservation. Now we have to go around making sure everyone has a physical address on their I.D. It’s coming about. But it’s nowhere near stabilized.
What do you think of the current presidential race? You talked about identifying with Bernie Sanders and his message, and how that motivated you to run for Congress. Are you still a Bernie supporter?
Bernie is a Chase Iron Eyes supporter, know what I mean? […] I’m one of those “Anybody but Trump” guys. Right now our elections is probably one of the most important in our history, certainly in my lifetime. Trump is presenting things- Trump supporters’ legacy is of white supremacy. We’re witnessing the last dying gasp of their era.
What would you say to indigenous people with similar aspirations as yours?
Keep going. Seek it out. Be willing to stand on your own in whatever you do. The world needs it and the world will be better because of your willingness to have the courage to stand up and be a leader.
To find out more about Chase Iron Eyes or to support him on his bid for Congress, please visit www.ironeyesforcongress.com.