I am so very pleased to learn that Willie Grayeyes is again on the ballot for this November running for a county commissioner seat. The history of San Juan County is such that, until only recently, racial gerrymandering had been a consistent and detrimental practice. And while the court ruling to change the boundaries was an important first step towards equality and democracy, I cannot help but notice how eliminating this undemocratic practice has been fought against every step of the way. And it will continue to be fought until election day. The fight for democracy is not over now that Mr. Grayeyes is back on the ballot, but it was a good victory and a much-needed one. Congrats, Willie!
What matters now, is how we go forward. We still need every Native person to register and re-register to vote. The way the county had set up voter registration for Natives in the past was highly suspect — as were voting locations to cast ballots. We are watching, along with many others, that the election is free from the corruption of the past. And as voters, we have to make sure we’re ready to go. We have to make sure we show up and vote. We are making history right now, but we need to keep pushing forward to make sure it’s a history of positive change.
For many people in San Juan County, this will be the first time they ever vote. It will also be the first time they can vote for a Native for U.S. Congress. For those of us outside of San Juan County, let’s make sure their votes count by stepping up and voting. We can become more than the sum of our parts!
We need to share with others our vision of a country that is based on empathy and social responsibility, of a government that protects its people and the environment, and empowers all of us, not just those at the top who can buy it. We have a vision that is clear: we want a country that is based on democracy — one that is of the people, by the people, and for the people.
This election, the choice is clear: we continue to travel a path towards authoritarianism and massive inequality, of limited freedoms, a destroyed environment, and systemic racism or we act now to correct our course and strive towards the promise of democracy, towards equality, of broad prosperity and freedom, and a sustainable future. We do not need to succumb to fear. We can hope for a better society today.
-- James Courage Singer
Anyone who has lived in Indian Country knows our problems are there due not to a lack of trying hard to eliminate them. We probably see, better than your average American, how systems are in place that prevent us from grasping wide prosperity. I look at this question at how we can live up to the promise of democracy in the American Project and simultaneously respect our tribal sovereignty. Because, let’s face it, tribal sovereignty is constantly being compromised and our systems of governance aren’t included in the American Project at an equitable level. My positions here serve as a jumping off point for dialogue and something I wish to explore further if I become the first Diné (Navajo) member of Congress in November.
Representation in the U.S. Congress
Guam, American Samoa, Puerto Rico, DC, and the Northern Mariana Islands — they all have representation in Congress. Yes, they are non-voting members, but their representatives sit on committees and can propose legislation. While I would rather see Indian Country represented with voting seats in Congress, why can’t non-voting status be a crucial first step?
If we were to use population measures to secure these seats, at about 700,000 people per representative, we could have four to seven representatives in Congress depending on how tribes define their citizenship or enrollment. If it were more like how the above political entities are represented with one representative per entity, then we would have over a hundred more tribal representatives in Congress than all of the current members of the House of Representatives combined. Let that sink in about what was here before.
At last the original stewards of this land and their societies could work along side as equals in constructing laws and policies that directly affect them. That to me is the promise of democracy and realizing the potential of tribal sovereignty.
Committee on Indian Affairs
Let’s suppose we manage to get those indigenous representatives in Congress. We’d want them to lead the Committee of Indian Affairs in the U.S. House, except that it doesn’t exist. It’s a subcommittee housed in the Committee of Natural Resources. I could go into why this is wrong on so many levels, but we’ll leave that for another article. Suffice it to say, we’d elevate this committee from its current subcommittee level.
Moving the Bureau of Indian Affairs to the Department of State
Currently, the BIA is housed within the Department of the Interior — a department which manages land, water, resources, and animals. I’m a human being and it’s wrong to group me and my people as just another thing to conserve or regulate along with the rest of wildlife. Instead, if we are to, at the very least, live up to the “domestic dependent nation” status, and at most, reclaim our inherent sovereignty independent from the European “Doctrine of Discovery” then the kind of relationship our indigenous nations should be engaged in would look more like what the U.S. has with other countries. How much better would our nations be if we conducted diplomacy between governments rather than as subordinates in a bureaucracy?
Revenue from Property Tax
We know the truth of the matter is that our homelands were taken from us by force and coercion, manipulation, and other tactics of deceit to create the country we live in today. We are a part of that history and narrative too. Treaties continue to be dishonored and yet we’re still here. While having all of our lands restored is a long stretch, it isn’t strange to take a page out of the capitalist playbook. Wherever property exists, there are taxes on that. I propose a small percentage of taxes already being levied be allocated to either a fund for Native nations to use generally or directly to the tribal nation whose lands were expropriated.
What I’m suggesting here isn’t actually that radical. Instead, I would like us to think about the potential of the project of democracy, and if we, as indigenous peoples, can actually be equal actors in shaping our part in this narrative instead of being acted upon. Can America live up to the promise of democracy and include Native nations as equals? Can we turn the next page on “Indian Affairs” in the 21st century? I know our indigenous philosophies and ways of thinking and doing can solve some of the biggest social problems we’re facing today — not just for our own Native nations, but globally as well. We just need our voices at the table of power to prove it.
Immigrant children and families being separated by our government is a despicable policy and must stop now.
It seems like a cheap and immoral way for the President to push immigration legislation and show how he “gets Congress to do something” and claim a “win.” It’s pathetic and a warped view of how our politics should work.
Congress, by nature, isn’t necessarily an efficient body. It’s supposed to be a deliberative one, so hastily pushing action through may not give us the kind of “comprehensive immigration reform” we actually need and opens the very real possibility for bad policy to be pushed through too quickly, crafted behind closed doors, and scrutinized insufficiently. And while Congress has created the means for this situation to arise and shares some of the blame for it, this specific policy of family separation is the President’s prerogative. In other words, this is his policy. He is executing it. He could stop it at this moment.
Pundits have said that the President is trying to outwardly show he is pushing a hard line on immigration, but I wonder if that is just a front for racism: “We don’t want their kind here. They’re not as special as we are, so we can treat them as sub-human. Then it’s not a violation of human rights. In fact, let’s get out of that whole ‘U.N. human rights’ business.”
This very situation is probably why some of those Founding Fathers, when designing the system of governance, thought political parties risky. The branches are set up to “check” and “balance” each other. But what happens when the power of the executive has increased over the years and the party in Congress is the same party as the President’s? The check between the branches is blurred and those Senators and Representatives in Congress will show greater loyalty to their party than to the project of American Democracy. The party in power has to maintain their power, which means in order to show solidarity as a party, they have to back the President, even when he clearly lacks basic moral judgment. The opposition party doesn’t have enough political power to pass legislation to stop the policy on its own. In the midst of these political battles for power, there are real lives being affected.
There’s far more at risk here than preserving political power and we have to do more than just condemn the actions, because at an instinctual level we all know it’s wrong. We don’t need elected leaders to state the obvious. What’s at stake is losing the promise of democracy. We need a strong stance against this president and immediately halt this practice of separating families.
It’s hard not to take this policy personally. Not only were my Navajo ancestors rounded up by the U.S. Army and held at a detention camp in the late 1860s, but many of my family members were taken from their families to boarding schools. My family still bears the scars of these acts. It is an intergenerational trauma we are still coming to terms with and was propagated by a government led by elected leaders who didn’t see Indigenous Peoples as equals.
I also married into it. My wife Carolina fled from a dire situation in Venezuela. She came alone and came with practically nothing, all her family back in Venezuela. She overstayed her visa and fell among those millions of others in the shadows: a part of society, but not a full-fledged member of it. When we met over a decade ago, she had decided to leave the United States for Spain. She stayed obviously, and through marriage she first became a permanent resident and then a citizen. I saw her gain a confidence and self-assuredness that I had not seen before because she didn’t have to live in fear anymore. Now we have two beautiful daughters. My family is a family of immigrants, even though I am indigenous.
I also have my mother-in-law living with us. She left a Venezuela that had spiraled into an authoritarian regime, with food shortages, a serious lack of medical supplies, and rampant crime. Although she wanted to stay in her homeland with her family, she could no longer live in safety there. She had an opportunity to live with us here in Utah. There are so many who do not have that chance, which is why so many good people risk so much to come to the United States.
I cannot imagine the kind of destitution and desperation someone would have to face to leave their homeland to seek out safety and opportunity — then only to find a government that would separate them from their children. I would be destroyed if I could not be with my daughters. I would be permanently ruined. For those of us in relative security, how do you think you would react?
The road to a “law and order” society has pushed us towards paranoia and xenophobia. We do not need to be searching out immigrants inside our country who have committed no crime, but not be born in the United States. It is so simple to make them a part of our society, especially if they were brought here as children. Additionally, not only should we cease funding ICE, but dismantle it. We can regulate our borders, but shrouding our society in a blanket of fear is the antithesis of democracy.
Otherwise, I hate to point out the blatantly obvious as a Native person: years ago, the country we all know was stolen from hundreds of sovereign nations, real political entities replete with societies, with genocide or assimilation as the prevailing policy. There is no “higher moral ground” anyone can make by saying, “This is a country of laws and they’re breaking them,” when in fact the foundation of this society is littered terribly with disgusting, inhumane laws that should never have been followed or created: slavery, indigenous genocide, stolen land, Jim Crow, subordination of women, and so on.
The promise of democracy is that we learn from our worst historical moments and not repeat them. At the very least, we can treat people — our fellow human beings — with dignity and respect, and we can keep them together as a family unit. The best we can do is open our arms completely, invite them to become part of our society, add to it, and grow forward together. I submit we shoot for the best we can do. In principle, it is who we should be[come] as Americans. It will make us stronger and will make us better.
Let’s stand together for these families. Let’s attend the rallies, write the letters, make the calls, and get involved. Let’s urge our elected leaders in Congress to act swiftly and humanely. Let’s support them and show appreciation for standing up to President Trump regardless of party affiliation. But let’s also make sure we elect leaders in November who can actually neutralize the immoral and vacuous actions of President Trump. And let’s hold our family members closer and tighter than we normally do and realize that there are good people within our borders, in our country, who have been forcibly separated from their families and locked in cages.
— James Courage Singer
For Media Inquiries
James in the News
Here you'll find articles about James' work in the community and news on his political endeavors.
Aug. 17, 2018 | KZMU Moab: News Earful with 3rd District Candidate James Singer
Aug. 16, 2018 | Moab Times-Independent: Meet James Singer
Aug. 16, 2018 | Moab Sun News: James Singer campaigns in Moab
Aug. 15, 2018 | KUER (NPR Affiliate): Navajo Candidate James Singer Highlights Bears Ears In Run For Congress
Aug. 1, 2018 | KBOO Portland: From Shrinking Bears Ears, Approving Pipelines, and Pocahontas: What Trump Means to Indian Country
Jul. 23, 2018 | Millennial Politics: These Three Indigenous Democratic Congressional Candidates Want to #AbolishICE
Jul. 16, 2018 | Two Broads Talking Politics: The Utah Democrats
Jul. 16, 2018 | Millennial Politics: James Singer: Indigenous Environmentalist Democratic Socialist for Congress in Utah's 3rd
Jul. 12, 2018 | Indian Country Today: A plan for Indian nations and democracy in the 21st century: Indian Country should have fair representation in Congress; that's the democratic promise.
Jun. 24, 2018 | Salt Lake Tribune: Commentary: As the Democrat in the race, I'd rather debate Curtis.
Apr. 9, 2018 | Salt Lake Tribune: Commentary: Sexual violence and harassment are men’s issues. And they’re leadership issues. Rep. John Curtis shows a lack of leadership on a serious issue.
Mar. 6, 2018 | Salt Lake Tribune: To ‘help forge our path of healing forward’ after Bears Ears, Utah tribal leaders are asking for a place on the governor’s cabinet.
Mar. 6, 2018 | KUER: Tribal Groups, House Dems Call For Creation Of Indian Affairs Cabinet Position
Oct. 9, 2017 | Salt Lake Tribune: American Indians gather to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Salt Lake City
Oct. 3, 2017 | City Weekly: SL Council Welcomes Indigenous Peoples Day
Sep. 18, 2017 | UPR: The Wellsville Sham Battle On Monday's Access Utah
Sep. 6, 2017 | Salt Lake Tribune: It’s 2017, but people in Utah still put on ‘redface’ for an inaccurate re-creation of an American Indian vs. Mormon battle
Jun. 8, 2017 | The Daily Universe: Navajo man seeks Senate diversity, challenges Hatch
May 5, 2017 | KUER: Navajo Candidate Latest In Young, Progressive Democrats Running For Congress
May 4, 2017 | Salt Lake Tribune: Navajo candidate announces bid as Democrat for Hatch's seat
Apr. 27, 2017 | Cache Valley Daily: Navajo candidate announces bid for U.S. Senate
Jan. 27, 2017 | City Weekly: "Make America Smart Again" Water protectors congregate to denounce Trump's DAPL reignition
Jan. 17, 2017 | Salt Lake Tribune: It's 'more than just clean water now': Utah activists protest Dakota Access Pipeline
Oct 31, 2016 | FOX 13: Police make several arrests in Dakota Access Pipeline protest in SLC
Oct. 12, 2015 | UPR: Cultural Appropriation on Monday's Access Utah