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The Sad Spectacle of Talking About Native Rights at Trump’s Racist Circus

Navajo Nation Vice President Myron Lizer kept a straight face, but there is no Native case for the president.

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On the second night of the Republican National Convention, Navajo Nation Vice President Myron Lizer made his appearance as the sole Native citizen scheduled to speak at the four-day event. Lizer, a conservative Republican and Baptist preacher, put forth his best effort as he tried to spin Democratic legislative achievements and hollow gestures from President Donald Trump as great strides for Indian Country. He did all of this with a straight face, which was honestly kind of impressive.

“Our Creator placed us here and knew for such a time as this, we would have an opportunity for an appeal to Heaven—you see, our people have never been invited into the American dream,” Lizer said in a recorded address from Shiprock on the Navajo Reservation (Dinétah). He continued that tribes have long been forced to fight congressional battles in a system that has ignored Native communities. “That is,” Lizer said, “until President Trump took office.”

There’s a lot of shame to go around when it comes to both parties’ failures and bad faith in Indian Country. And as I’ve written before, tribal issues rarely hew to a partisan line; they’re more often a matter of whether a given elected official respects and acts on the treaty and trust responsibilities of the United States. But there is a certain strangeness, or maybe sadness, in watching one of the leaders of a major tribal nation try to convince Native communities that Trump—a man who has taken to routinely use “Pocahontas” as an insult, honored Navajo Code Talkers in front of a portrait of Andrew Jackson, and famously opined on who does and does not look Native in Congress—is anything close to being on the side of Indian Country.

The remainder of the speech was a hodgepodge of logical leaps and misdirected credit, all in service of the Republican presidential nominee. Lizer first praised Trump for delivering “the largest financial funding package ever to Indian Country,” citing the $8 billion in Cares Act funding that was appropriated in the spring following the outbreak of the coronavirus. He failed to mention that the Trump administration first low-balled Indian Country.

As Democratic Representative Deb Haaland, one of two Democratic Native members of Congress, told The New Republic in late March, she and the Native American Caucus, co-chaired by herself and Republican Tom Cole, initially requested $20 billion in stimulus funding. The White House’s counter was just $3 billion. It required further negotiations with the Senate to get the number up to $8 billion; and even then, the distribution of the funds was among the many well-documented disasters that defined the federal response to the pandemic.

Lizer continued to cite the executive order signed by Trump that recognized the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women’s (MMIW) crisis—a crisis exacerbated by the extractive oil and gas developments that Trump’s Department of the Interior has green-lighted from the beginning of his term in office. Lizer also doted on the Trump administration’s MMIW task force, which was recently shunned by Minnesota tribal leaders as a political ploy and protested by Native citizens who have been actively working on the issue for years.

Next, Lizer reasoned that “President Trump also strengthened the Supreme Court by nominating strong conservative justices like Neil Gorsuch, who supports Native American rights.” In July, Gorsuch delivered the swing vote and authored the opinion on McGirt v. Oklahoma in which Gorsuch and the high court’s four liberal justices held that, because Congress never expressly disestablished the Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s reservation through legislative action, the tribal nation still maintained limited jurisdiction over crimes committed within the reservation boundaries. Again, Lizer overlooked the fact that Trump’s other Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, opposed Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s reservation, along with every other conservative justice on the bench.

This is about what you’d expect from a Trump-supporting tribal leader or really anyone making a convention speech. Lizer’s remarks did not stray from the expected. He praised Trump throughout, distorted the truth to fit a preordained narrative, and even invited the president to visit Navajo Nation as he concluded his speech. Fifty minutes later, after a slew of similarly milquetoast speeches, the convention cameras turned to Nick Sandmann, who explained in laborious detail how he learned firsthand what “being canceled” was. Start to finish, day two of the convention was a good show of bad faith all the way around.