The California Democratic Party’s Native American Caucus denounced Senate candidate Loretta Sanchez’s caricature of an Indian “war cry” on Monday, calling the gesture she made over the weekend insensitive and insulting.
The American Indian group also aired a grievance it has with Attorney General Kamala Harris, the other Democrat in the race, for her office’s position in a long-running dispute over the boundaries of a reservation.
“We believe they both display a lack of understanding and sensitivity to Native American tribal issues and individual Indian issues,” caucus Chairwoman Mary Ann Andreas, of the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, said in an interview. In a statement with Andrew Masiel, of the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians, she added that “their comments and actions provide little assurance that they grasp the government-to-government relationship guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.”
Sanchez, a veteran congresswoman from Santa Ana, apologized for the gesture Sunday in her speech to delegates at the party’s annual convention in Anaheim. Sanchez said she has long stood up for American Indians and added that she is part Native American.
Andreas said Sanchez’s friendship with Native Americans makes it “really surprising and difficult.” She said the tribes have long respected U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, the departing official who she says spent years meeting with leaders and studying issues.
“We’re afraid we have seen the last of that, and we are hoping that the candidates for Senate will take the time to meet with us,” Andreas said.
Her criticism of Harris focuses on a case over the Colorado River Indian Tribes’ reservation boundaries. Harris filed an amicus brief on behalf of evicted resident Roger French, who has not paid rent in 17 years and is accused of trespassing on tribal lands. Andreas and Masiel contend Harris took the position without discussing the issue with the tribe or “concern to the facts.”
Harris argues the disputed area is not part of the reservation. Her office believes the state has several interests in the land in question, including whether the tribe could conduct gaming, as well as who can exercise claims to water from the Colorado River.
In a prepared statement, Harris’ campaign spokesman Nathan Click said she has a deep respect for California’s sovereign Indian nations and Native Americans.
“She looks forward to discussing who will best represent the interests of Native Americans and all Californians over the course of this campaign,” Click said.