When the presidential hopefuls debate on August 19 and 20 in Sioux City, Iowa, they will share the spotlight with 20-year-old Steven Wilson, who will take center stage during the opening ceremony to sing the National Anthem in Lakota, Rapid City Journal reported today (August 1). And the singer from Pine Ridge, South Dakota will do so at the first-ever presidential election forum focused entirely on the concerns of Native Americans and their communities.
“It’s an honor to be able to represent the Oglala Lakota people,” Wilson reportedly said on Wednesday (July 31). “For a long time, Native Americans have gone without a voice in the government, [so the forum is] really monumental in my mind because we have presidential candidates that are taking the time to learn and express their stance on Native American issues.”
The event, titled the Frank LaMere Presidential Candidate Forum, is named after the Nebraska activist who passed away on June 15 and was organized by the Native-led voting-rights group Four Directions.
When Wilson steps in front of the mic, he will open the way for the Democratic candidates who have confirmed their attendance thus far, which includes Senator Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.), Montana Governor Steve Bullock, author Marianne Williamson, John Delaney and Julián Castro, along with Navajo Nation-citizen and Independent Mark Charles. Among the issues to be addressed is the crisis surrounding missing and murdered Indigenous women; Native American infrastructure, health care, education and economic development; treaty obligations and sovereignty; and the bipartisan Remove the Stain Act, which would rescind the 20 Medals of Honor awarded to troops for participating in the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre.
Bringing Native American issues and voices to a presidential forum for the first time is indeed a big deal for Four Directions, which notes that Wilson isn’t performing just to perform. “We’re just very honored that [Wilson will] be singing the national anthem, especially in Lakota,” Four Directions spokesman Matt Samp reportedly said. “He really has a message to people. He isn’t just singing the national anthem, he recognizes the sacrifices that Native Americans have made for their country, even though land was taken from them.”
At the previous Democratic debates, in Miami (June 26 and 27) and Detroit (July 30 and 31), there was a topic that was not broached—and which the LaMere forum intends to address. “At the two nights of candidate debates in Miami, broadcast to a national audience, not one question or one candidate comment addressed Native American issues,” said O.J. Semans, co-executive director of Four Directions, in a press release on July 25. “Ignoring this forum in Iowa is ignoring the millions of First Americans who are citizens and voters.”
The event will live stream on Four Direction’s website and its social media outlets.