Are North Dakota Democrats Really Supporting Their Native American Candidates?


Chase Iron Eyes speaks at the Eliot Glassheim announcement of his Senate campaign at the town square in Grand Forks, N.D. on July 14, 2016. (Meg Oliphant/Grand Forks Herald)

Mike Jacobs writes about the Dakota Access Pipeline protests in his column this week. He notes that the protests illustrate what a political force the tribes have come, at least when it comes to obstructing pipelines, and points out that North Dakota’s Democrats have three Native American candidates on the statewide ballot this cycle.

North Dakota’s November ballot has three Native candidates: Chase Iron Eyes for Congress, Marlo Hunte-Beaubrun for Public Service Commission and Ruth Buffalo for insurance commissioner. All are Democrats, and none has much of a chance.

But each of them stepped up to fill slots on a major party ticket.

This has two important implications. First, as major party candidates, they will have media access. Second, they’ve established that the Democratic Party in the state can’t just count on Native voters; it must also promote Native candidates to the white population.

That’s an interesting point, but I wonder if it can be said that North Dakota’s Democrats are paying anything more than lip service to these candidates and their issues?

Last month I pointed out that there has been very little financial support for the candidates. In fact, according to the most recent campaign finance reports filed with the state, there has been zero financial support for the campaigns of Hunte-Beaubrun or Buffalo.

Chase Iron eyes has done better, but through his July quarterly report filed with the FEC he’s raised just over $82,000 total this election cycle but is reporting over $56,000 in campaign debt. That’s far behind what the white Democratic candidates who ran for Congress in previous cycles raised at that point in their campaigns:


But going beyond financial report, where are the Democrats on the Dakota Access Pipeline protests? An issue which has galvanized the Native America population in the state?

I have reached out twice to Robert Haider, the executive director of the state Democratic party, requesting comment on the protests. He hasn’t bothered to respond to me. As I write this the Democrats have posted nothing about the Dakota Access protests on their official Facebook or Twitter accounts.

Senator Heidi Heitkamp has been largely quiet on the issue, offering a milquetoast statement on the protests when questioned saying she generally supports pipelines but would monitor the Dakota Access project to ensure that all laws are followed.

Meanwhile, the Native American candidates themselves are engaging. Chase Iron Eyes’ daughter has appeared in a widely-viewed online video about the protests:

He also addressed the Morton County Commission about law enforcement blocking Highway 1806 south of Bismarck over concerns about the protest:

Both Buffalo and Hunte-Beaubrun have also been active on social media in support of the protests.

But the Democratic party as a whole? The white Democratic candidates on the statewide ballot? It seems they’ve largely been silent.

So yeah, the Democrats have Native American candidates, but can they really be said to be promoting those candidates when a) they aren’t afforded the resources to run a competitive campaign and b) the Democratic party is largely silent on the issues most important to them?

Though it’s pretty clear why the Democrats are quiet. To side with the environmental zealots the tribes have formed an unfortunate partnership with would be to court further marginalization in state politics.

By the way, I reached out to Republicans for a statement about the Dakota Access protests. I got a prompt response from party chairman Kelly Armstrong.

“A special thanks goes out to the NDHP and local law enforcement. This is a tense situation and they are doing a great job,” he told me. “Having the freedom to protest is one of the things that makes this country great. However, the protest should not be able to shut down the lawful construction of a properly approved pipeline. It is unfortunate that out of state anti-fossil fuel agitators are using North Dakota as a way to push a radical environmental agenda that does not serve North Dakota’s best interests.”