Bernie Sanders on Native American Rights

Bernie Sanders respects and values Native Americans and believes the U.S. needs to support and work with our First Americans to improve their standard of living. Bernie supports the right of Native American tribes to self-govern and have sovereign jurisdiction over their lands. He also supports directly acknowledging our continuing history of mistreatment and racism against Native Americans and actively promotes measures to achieve justice for them.

Tribal Sovereignty

Native tribes should have jurisdiction over crimes committed on their lands.

Whoa, what does that mean?

While much lip service is paid to the sovereignty of Native American groups within U.S. borders, the legal reality is a quagmire. In many cases, if a crime is committed on a reservation by somebody who is not a member of the tribe, the tribal government is not permitted the jurisdiction to prosecute the perpetrator under their own legal system.

What has Bernie done to strengthen the sovereignty of Native tribes?

Bernie co-sponsored the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013, which would give each tribal government jurisdiction over domestic violence crimes and provide funding for tribal criminal justice systems and victim services.

How else has this issue come into play?

The proposed Keystone XL pipeline would be built across Indian country. This does not have the consent of those peoples to be built and would have negative effects. Learn about some of the potentially damaging effects of the Keystone XL pipeline here.

Where does Bernie stand on the Keystone XL pipeline?

Bernie vehemently opposes the pipeline. Learn more about his environmental policies at the Earth & The Environment category page.


Healthcare for Native Americans should be improved to better address the health issues that affect them. Native Americans experience disproportionately high rates of particular health problems, and also face challenges in receiving effective healthcare.

What has Bernie voted for to support addressing this issue?

Bernie voted for Healthcare for Indigenous Peoples to take a wide variety of actions to address healthcare issues facing Native Americans. Learn more about Bernie’s work around increasing the social safety net — including healthcare — for all Americans at the category page here.

Acknowledging Racism

Bernie believes we need to immediately apologize for the damage our historical discrimination and racism has caused Native Americans, and that stereotypes and slurs against them should be actively denounced. The continuing history of mistreatment of indigenous peoples by the United States is still an issue that needs to be remedied and receives little public attention. Formal public acknowledgement of America’s role in this mistreatment is a small step in the right direction.

What are some examples?

For centuries, names and images have been appropriated from the cultures of indigenous peoples, stripped of context, twisted, and adapted to mock and perpetuate belittling stereotypes and tokens. This is a major problem that remains widespread today.

The American Baseball League’s Cleveland Indians team and National Football League’s Washington, D.C. Redskins team are both professional sports teams which use images as mascots that stereotype Native Americans. Additionally, “redskin” is commonly used as a derogatory racial slur to refer to Native American individuals.

What has Bernie supported along these lines?

Bernie voted to apologize “for the many instances of violence, maltreatment, and neglect inflicted on Native Peoples by citizens of the United States.”

Where does Bernie stand?

Bernie signed a formal congressional letter denouncing name of the Washington Redskins as racist and urged the NFL to push to rename the team.