Presidential Candidate Robert Kennedy Jr. Pays Visit to Coalition of Large Tribes Pledging to Strengthen Tribal Relations and Honor Treaties (Media Share)

COLT was featured in an article on the website LAST REAL INDIANS on March 13, 2024 titled “Presidential Candidate Robert Kennedy Jr. Pays Visit to Coalition of Large Tribes Pledging to Strengthen Tribal Relations and Honor Treaties” and written by Darren Thompson.


Las Vegas—On Friday, March 8, the Coalition of Large Tribes (COLT) hosted Robert Kennedy  Jr. to hear of his presidential campaign and to give tribal leaders a chance to question his  commitment to Indian Country. More than 50 tribal leaders heard directly from Mr. Kennedy,  where he shared his upbringing including his family’s relationships with Indigenous people and  aspects of his campaign including his support to strengthen tribal sovereignty. Kennedy  announced his candidacy as an independent for the President of the United States on October  9, 2023 and has since campaigned throughout the country. Friday’s meeting was Kennedy’s  first official visit to speak with tribal leaders while running for the presidency.  

“I know there’s a lot of political leaders over the years that have come in front of Tribes and  made promises of what they’re going to do when they get elected,” said Robert Kennedy Jr. in  the beginning of his presentation. “I wanted to talk about my history of commitment to Tribal  issues and Indian across the country.” 

Kennedy spoke of his family’s trips to the Rosebud Sioux Indian Reservation, the Pine Ridge  Indian Reservation, Hopi, and Navajo reservations while he was a child. “This was very much a  part of my youth,” he said. “My father loved this country and loved American democracy and  thought we should be a role model for the rest of the world, but he also believed the treatment  of Indigenous people in this country—the Native Americans, the ones who above all others can  call themselves American—that that was the original sin of our country.” 

“This inspired my life and has continued to in my adult years,” he said during Friday’s COLT  meeting. “My father and my uncle, John F. Kennedy, Jr., would talk a lot about the Choctaws  during the Great Irish Famine in 1848 when over a million Irish starved to death and my  grandparents on both sides of my family were a part of the flood of Irish that left that year and  came to Boston.” 

The Choctaws raised monies, $170, during the famine and sent to people in Ireland who were  starving to death. “My father thought that was something we shouldn’t forget,” Kennedy said  of his father.  

Robert Kennedy was the 64th United States Attorney General, from January 1961 to  September 1964, and a U.S. Senator from New York from January 1965 until he was  assassinated in June 1968, while he was running from the Democratic presidential nomination.  Kennedy Jr. recalled how while his father was the U.S. Attorney General, that he hired many  Native people in his administration and were often at their house for dinners or visits. “When I  was a kid, there were always Native leaders at the Justice Department and my dad would bring  them home for lunch,” he said. “The White House always had open doors to Tribal leaders  [during John F. Kennedy’s Presidency] and they brought us gifts including headdresses, pipes,  and beaded moccasins.” 

“My dad admired Indian people for their courage, their perseverance, but all of what he was  upset about was their injustice,” he said. “When he visited the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in  1968, he saw a family of Sioux living out of a burned out car and that made him cry. That’s  something I’ve never saw in my lifetime, even when my uncle passed away and that was  crushing to him.” 

The news of Robert Kennedy crying after seeing a family’s living conditions in Pine Ridge  spread fast among the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. “On the day my father was killed, he  won 99% of the vote on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation,” he said. “While he was in Pine  Ridge, there were 20,000 people in Rapid City waiting for him. He was four and a half hours  late because he spent so much time in Pine Ridge and one of his aides questioned him asking  him why they are spending so much time there when Indians don’t vote.” 

During the first month of Robert Kennedy’s presidential campaign in the 1960’s, he made 70  stops to speak of his campaign, 10 of them were on Indian reservations shared Kennedy.  Kennedy shared that in the years he has traveled to Pine Ridge, he still meets people who  share they’re looking for the 1% of people who voted against his father a generation ago. He  also was one of the founding editors of the Lakota Times, founded by Tim Giago in 1968.  Lakota Times later became Indian Country Today. Kennedy later founded EcoWatch, a leading  environmental news site in 2011.  

Kennedy also shared his life as an attorney and activist, citing his arrest in 2013 while  protesting at the White House with his son Conor for protesting the Keystone Pipeline’s  construction. Leaders applauded his commitment and gave Kennedy a standing ovation. He  also shared with Tribal leaders that his mother Ethel helped occupy Alcatraz Island after her  husband close the prison in the San Francisco Bay in 1968. She is the oldest living member of  the Kennedy family and was awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama in  2014.  

“She stayed on Alcatraz for 3, or 4 days, cooking food and sleeping in the prison cells,” he  said. “So, this commitment is something I grew up with and is part of our DNA—commitment  to Tribes.” 

Kennedy, also an attorney, founded the largest water protector organization the world, the  WaterKeeper Alliance and served as its President for 21 years. Today, it is the largest nonprofit  organization dedicated to protecting water ways and protects 2.7 million miles of waters with  more than a million volunteers in the United States and 46 other countries. As an attorney, 20%  of his casework was specifically advocating for or protecting tribes.  

His platform and focus on Indian Country includes having an open door to Tribes, and to take  calls from any Tribal leader, healthy access to food and making the land sacred again. “There’s  another future, one I see working on reservations, where there’s wonderful things happening on  regenerative agriculture, which the American Indian invented.” Kennedy said. “We need to  make our spaces sacred again, make our soil sacred again, make our water and air sacred  again.” 

Regenerative agriculture focuses on improving the health of soil, which has been degraded by  the use of heavy machinery, fertilizers and pesticides in intensive farming.  

“Part of resurrecting our Nation is going to resurrect that leadership that comes from the  Tribes,” he said.  

After his presentation, several tribal leaders asked Kennedy questions including if he would be  wiling to sign the United Nations (UN) Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. The 

United States has not signed the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, along  with Canada, New Zealand and Australia, all countries with significant Indigenous populations.  Kennedy voiced he would sign the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and  said it was long overdue. 

The Declaration is expected to have a major effect on the rights of Indigenous peoples  worldwide. If adopted, it will establish an important standard for the treatment of Indigenous  peoples and aims to be a significant tool towards eliminating human rights violations against  the over 370 million Indigenous people worldwide and assist them in combating discrimination  and marginalization. 

Kennedy also voiced he would immediately release Leonard Peltier, the Turtle Mountain  Chippewa man who was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences for the murder of two  Federal Bureau of Investigation agents on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in 1975.  

“Leonard Peltier is 79 years old and frail, he’s not a danger to society,” Kennedy said of his  support for the release of Leonard Peltier. “The importance he plays in a world of Indian  people, the symbolic role he plays, and its important we free him and bring everyone together  in this country.” 

As far as budgeting for Indian Country, he said he’d immediately triple the budget to support  Tribes from the White House.  

After Kennedy’s presentation, Tribal leaders presented Kennedy with several gifts including star  quilts gifted by the Oglala Sioux Tribe and honor songs sung by dignitaries from the Shoshone  Bannock Tribe and Oglala Sioux Tribe. Tribal leaders and COLT meeting attendees all took  photos and shook Robert Kennedy Jr.’s hand.  

Several tribal leaders left the meeting with Kennedy 24 merchandise including hats, t-shirts and  Shoshone-Bannack Tribal Chairman Lee Juan Tyler said, “This will be worth something one  day!”

Original Article

Last Real Indians

March 13, 2024