Alfred Pilsmore, an 84-year-old Oglala Sioux Indian, discussing Indian needs with Robert F. Kennedy at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota on April 16, 1968.Credit... Associated Press
“These kinds of conditions can not be permitted to exist in the United States.” Robert F Kennedy after seeing the impoverished living conditions on the Pine Ridge Reservation.
Robert F Kennedy Jr inherited from his father a deep commitment to improving the lives of Native Americans. Like his father, he sees the poverty and suffering in Indian Country as our country’s greatest shame and he believes that the federal government’s unfair dealings and broken treaties with the tribal nations are our nation’s original sin. After accompanying his father on campaign trips to reservations around the country, RFK Jr was inspired to focus a significant amount of his own career on representing the interests of indigenous Americans in the United States, Canada and Latin America. He has advocated for these first Americans in courtrooms and in treaty negotiations; he has fought for them against mining, timber, hydroelectric, and oil-industry forces endeavoring to steal their resources and destroy their lands and tribal culture. RFK Jr has been on the front lines of recent battles in Indian country: he joined the water protectors at Standing Rock and he and he was arrested protesting the Keystone XL pipeline.
Under a Kennedy administration, historic wrongs done to Native Americans will be addressed and made right. The spirit as well as the letter of treaties must be honored as the highest law of the land: documents made between sovereign nations. Cultural renewal will be supported and religious practices and sacred sites will be defended. Tribal sovereignty and the right of self determination will be respected. The need for restoration of illegally taken lands and resources, reparations for broken treaties, protection and enhancement of natural resources in Indian Country, will be elevated to matters of national interest and examination. Tribes will have a friend and ally in the White House.
While we know some of the problems in Indian Country, we will work in partnership with Native American leaders to learn more and to find the solutions. It is the duty of the federal government to do all if can to create a better life for all Americans—especially those who have been reprehensibly neglected. We will seek to restore trust between Native Americans and the federal government and we will work hard to deserve it. We believe it is not enough to apologize for—or even attempt to rectify—past injustices; we need to prevent current and future injustices from occurring.
RFK Jr and his son Conor with the water protectors at Standing Rock Encampment 2016.