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5 Democratic presidential candidates confirmed for Sioux City forum on Native issues
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5 Democratic presidential candidates confirmed for Sioux City forum on Native issues

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SIOUX CITY -- Five Democratic presidential candidates have confirmed they will take part in a Sioux City forum later this month focusing exclusively on issues important to Native Americans.

Steve Bullock Sioux City campaign

Bullock

Julian Castro, Heartland Forum

Castro

John Delaney, Harry Hopkins Democratic Dinner

Delaney

The Frank LaMere Native American Presidential Forum is scheduled for Aug. 19-20 at the Orpheum Theatre in downtown Sioux City. According to organizers, Democratic candidates Bernie Sanders, Marianne Williamson, Steve Bullock, Julian Castro and John Delaney have agreed to participate. Independent candidate Mark Charles, a member of the Navajo Nation, also plans to attend.

“Candidates want to say yes to this event, because they understand voter turnout is increasing dramatically in Indian Country,”  said O.J. Semans, co-executive director of Mission, South Dakota-based Four Directions, a Native American voting rights organization and the primary sponsor of the forum.

Organizers have billed the forum as the first of its kind for Native American issues.

Matt Samp, communications director for Four Directions, was in Sioux City on Wednesday to review the Orpheum to set up for the forum. Samp said more candidates could still join the lineup by the Aug. 9 deadline. 

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Twenty-six Democratic candidates have been invited, as have President Donald Trump and William Weld, a former Massachusetts governor who is challenging Trump for the Republican nomination.

The forum, announced a month ago, is named for the late Frank LaMere, a Native American activist from South Sioux City who died of cancer last month. Sioux City was chosen as the site for the national forum because there is a population of Native Americans in the region and since the Iowa caucuses are the first test of the nominating season.

Representatives of tribes and leading Native American organizations from across the country will serve on panels composed of tribal leaders and Native youth, posing questions of candidates and creating dialogue. Semans said the issues expected to be aired at the forum include the high numbers of murdered and missing indigenous women, Native infrastructure, Native American health care, Native education and Native economic development.

Semans said the late June Democratic candidate debates in Miami showed "not one question or one candidate comment addressed Native American issues."

“When candidates demonstrate they understand the issues and will work for the betterment of our people and our communities, they can earn our votes," he said.

At the Sioux City forum, the candidates also will be asked if they support a bill recently introduced in Congress that would revoke Medals of Honor given to 20 U.S. Calvary soldiers who participated in the Wounded Knee massacre on Dec. 29, 1890, on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. An estimated 250 Native Americans were killed, many of whom were women and children.

Among those promoting the legislation is Semans. A member of the Rosebud Sioux in South Dakota, he began advocating for the bill in January after Trump tweeted a comment mocking Democratic presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren’s claim to Native American ancestry.

In addition to Four Directions, other groups hosting the Sioux City forum include the Native Organizers Alliance, the National Congress of American Indians, the Native American Rights Fund, the Coalition of Large Tribes and the Great Plains Tribal Chairmen's Association.

Tickets for the forum, which are $3, went on sale Friday.

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