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Elizabeth Warren unveils expansive proposal on Native American issues

The Boston Globe logo The Boston Globe 8/16/2019 Jess Bidgood
Elizabeth Warren © Frank Franklin II/Associated press Elizabeth Warren

WASHINGTON — Senator Elizabeth Warren on Friday proposed a sprawling set of policies relating to Native Americans and indigenous tribes, accusing the federal government of years of neglect and calling for major economic development initiatives and new legal protections that would give tribes more control over criminal justice and development on their land.

“As a nation, we are failing in our legal, political, and moral obligations toward tribal governments and indigenous peoples,” Warren wrote in a post on the Medium website. “Washington owes native communities respect — and so much more.”

Warren proposed wholesale changes in the way the federal government interacts with Native American tribes. She pledged to revoke the permits for major pipelines whose construction has touched off extensive protests among indigenous groups, and called for a cabinet-level White House council on Native American affairs.

It is the latest in a series of policy proposals Warren has used to buttress her presidential bid, and one that will undoubtably draw attention because of the long-simmering controversy around Warren’s own claims of Native American heritage — which is mentioned nowhere in the plan. Warren’s decision to identify herself as Native American in academic directories during part of her career as a law professor became a flashpoint in her first Senate race, in 2012, and President Trump has seized on the issue in more recent years, deriding her as “Pocahontas” and “Fauxcahontas.”

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Last year, Warren pledged to use those attacks to highlight issue of importance to Native Americans, but she has largely tried to move quickly past the issue when asked about it on the campaign trail. Some of her policy proposals — including one on public lands, and another on housing — have touched on Native American issues, but Friday’s plan represents her most comprehensive policy on indigenous groups.

The proposal also calls for an “unprecedented initiative” to address the crisis of murdered and missing indigenous women. It includes a sweeping proposal to fund “unmet needs” for Native Americans through an act of Congress, which she is proposing with Representative Deb Haaland of New Mexico, one of the first Native American women elected to Congress, who has endorsed her.

“It will represent an urgently needed and long-overdue step toward ensuring that the United States finally, and for the first time, fully meets its resource obligations to Indian Country,” Warren wrote.

In the post, Warren said she would revoke the permits for the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry oil between Canada and the Gulf Coast, and the Dakota Access pipeline, in the upper Midwest, calling them “ill advised and improperly granted.” Both pipelines have prompted outcries from indigenous tribes.

“Washington must stop putting the interests of companies that want to exploit our environment ahead of the interests of Native people who seek to preserve their homelands and sacred sites,” Warren wrote.

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