‘Congress Has Never Heard a Voice Like Mine’

Newsweek - - News - BY RE­BECCA NEL­SON

How one of the first Na­tive Amer­i­cans elected to the House hopes to change Wash­ing­ton.

Deb Haa­land IS ONE OF THE FIRST NA­TIVE AMER­I­CAN WOMEN ELECTED

TO CONGRESS. HERE’S HOW SHE’LL CHANGE IT

Two years ago, as amer­i­cans were locked in a bit­ter dis­pute over the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, Deb Haa­land stuffed her suit­case full of green chiles and flew from her home state of New Mex­ico to North Dakota to join a dif­fer­ent fight. Thou­sands of Amer­i­can In­di­ans from tribes across the U.S. had de­scended on the windswept plains to re­sist the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s in­cur­sion into na­tive lands via—nat­u­rally—an oil project. The month­s­long protest was un­prece­dented. Au­thor­i­ties main­tained that the Dakota Ac­cess Pipe­line, which would carry ap­prox­i­mately 500,000 bar­rels of crude a day to Illi­nois, would cre­ate thou­sands of jobs and re­vi­tal­ize the lo­cal econ­omy. But Na­tive Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ties and en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivists ob­jected to the pipe­line’s route, which bi­sected the an­cient tribal lands of the Stand­ing Rock Sioux and tun­neled un­der­neath the Mis­souri River, the tribe’s pri­mary wa­ter source. The Sioux feared the pipe­line would threaten the reser­va­tion’s wa­ter sup­ply should it ever break.

Haa­land, a cit­i­zen of the La­guna Pue­blo, a Na­tive Amer­i­can com­mu­nity in New Mex­ico, and chair­woman of the state Demo­cratic Party, spent four days at the sprawl­ing camp out­side the town of Can­non Ball. She called tribal lead­ers to rally sup­port for the cause. She talked with the peo­ple at the camp, who’d trav­eled across the coun­try to stand up for Amer­i­can In­dian rights. One night, she opened her suit­case stash and cooked a big green chile stew over the fire so the pro­test­ers could taste a tra­di­tional pue­blo meal. The protest, she says, touched a nerve for Amer­i­can In­dian com­mu­ni­ties. “It caused a lot of folks to say, ‘You know what? Peo­ple need to lis­ten to Na­tive Amer­i­cans.’”

Even though Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump au­tho­rized the pipe­line’s con­struc­tion in 2017 and it be­gan fer­ry­ing oil a few months later, Haa­land wasn’t fin­ished. The protests gave Na­tive Amer­i­cans a taste of the power of ad­vo­cacy. If peo­ple heard more Amer­i­can In­dian voices, maybe the com­mu­nity wouldn’t have to fight for some­thing as vi­tal as clean wa­ter. “Peo­ple went there and saw this com­ing to­gether of all these tribes in this in­spi­ra­tional at­mos­phere, and it cre­ated a sense of en­ti­tle­ment, that it’s our time to do some­thing,” says Mark Tra­hant, the ed­i­tor of In­dian Coun­try To­day.

Haa­land re­turned to New Mex­ico de­ter­mined to keep fight­ing and, like dozens of na­tive women across the coun­try, de­cided to run for pub­lic of­fice. In Novem­ber, she made his­tory, be­com­ing one of the first Na­tive Amer­i­can women elected to Congress, along with Sharice Davids in Kansas, a Demo­crat and cit­i­zen of the Ho-chunk Na­tion.

Next month, they will join a fresh­man class of nearly three dozen Demo­cratic women—in­clud­ing the first Mus­lim con­gress­women and the youngest woman ever elected to Congress—but their elec­tions ar­guably rep­re­sent one of the most sig­nif­i­cant po­lit­i­cal mile­stones of 2018. “It’s clear that Amer­i­cans want rep­re­sen­ta­tion,” Haa­land says of the di­verse slate of can­di­dates elected. “I think it could be a turn­ing point for this coun­try.”

It’s been a long time com­ing. Though Na­tive Amer­i­cans are nearly 2 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion, they ac­count for just 0.03 per­cent of elected of­fi­cials. The fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s stained his­tory with in­dige­nous peo­ple—geno­cide, forced as­sim­i­la­tion, sys­temic dis­crim­i­na­tion—played a de­ci­sive role in keep­ing the com­mu­nity from of­fice. That un­re­lent­ing op­pres­sion isn’t a relic of the dis­tant past; it re­ver­ber­ates across reser­va­tions to­day. In Oc­to­ber, the Supreme Court up­held a North Dakota law that re­quires vot­ers to pro­vide ID that in­cludes a res­i­den­tial ad­dress, which Na­tive Amer­i­cans say un­fairly tar­gets them be­cause reser­va­tions of­ten don’t use street ad­dresses; post of­fice boxes are com­mon. It has led to a pro­found distrust of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment among na­tive peo­ple, many of whom have turned in­ward to pre­serve and strengthen what they have left.

But the col­lec­tive power of Stand­ing Rock, along with op­po­si­tion to Trump and a grow­ing tribal po­lit­i­cal net­work, con­verged to bring more na­tive women into pol­i­tics than ever be­fore. In to­tal, more than 50 ran for Congress, state leg­is­la­tures and statewide of­fices this year—the largest move­ment of its kind in Amer­i­can his­tory. In her bid for New Mex­ico’s 1st Con­gres­sional Dis­trict,

Haa­land made her iden­tity a fo­cus of her cam­paign, herald­ing her­self a “35th-gen­er­a­tion New Mex­i­can.” Her cam­paign logo was a ren­der­ing of the sun, a yel­low orb with bursts of light from four sides, an an­cient Zia Pue­blo sym­bol that’s also on the state flag. In New Mex­ico, where 11 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion is na­tive, it res­onated. On the stump and in cam­paign ads, she started us­ing a pow­er­ful re­frain: “Congress has never heard a voice like mine.”

the la­guna pue­blo is a straight shot west from al­bu­querque on In­ter­state 40, which runs par­al­lel to the old Route 66. Once you’re out of the city, which hap­pens in a flash, there’s vir­tu­ally noth­ing on ei­ther side of the high­way, save great ex­panses of desert flecked with sage­brush and stubby ju­niper trees. Flat-topped mesas rise up in the dis­tance. Just 45 min­utes away from the city of nearly 600,000, the pue­blo feels like an­other world.

While Haa­land was from a mil­i­tary fam­ily and moved around the coun­try as a kid, this is where she spent much of her child­hood. There wasn’t any run­ning wa­ter, and when she was young,

“WHEN THAT’S WHAT YOU’RE UP AGAINST,

WHY WOULD YOU RUN? THE DECK HAS BEEN STACKED for­ever.” AGAINST NA­TIVE AMER­I­CAN CAN­DI­DATES

she would am­ble down to the spigot in the mid­dle of the vil­lage and fill two buck­ets to the brim. She’d lug them back the 400 yards to her grand­mother’s one-room house, so she and her sib­lings could drink or have a bath. There wasn’t elec­tric­ity ei­ther, but they’d build a fire in the brick and clay oven, where her grand­mother taught her to bake. Other times, she’d go down to the field with her grand­fa­ther and pick worms off ears of corn.

Na­tive Amer­i­cans have lived in this vil­lage in ru­ral New Mex­ico for nearly a thou­sand years. On a chilly Tues­day evening in Au­gust, Haa­land, who’s 57, takes me on a tour. Her grand­mother’s house is still here. The spigot is too. “I think that’s where I learned to be very con­ser­va­tive with wa­ter,” she tells me. When you have to haul your own, you con­serve.

Out­siders are viewed with sus­pi­cion here. As we spoke dur­ing Newsweek’s photo shoot off the side of a two-lane road, three dif­fer­ent peo­ple driv­ing by stopped to make sure we had the proper per­mis­sions to pho­to­graph on pue­blo land. At one point, a La­guna po­lice of­fi­cer, alerted by a watch­ful res­i­dent, came to check that our papers were in or­der.

The distrust is un­der­stand­able. Af­ter the geno­cide of Na­tive Amer­i­cans at the hands of white set­tlers, the U.S. gov­ern­ment im­ple­mented poli­cies de­signed to erase them. There was An­drew Jack­son’s In­dian Re­moval Act, which forced tribes west and away from their land. Then there was the pol­icy of as­sim­i­la­tion and 1887’s Dawes Act, which aimed to de­stroy Na­tive Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ties by di­vid­ing up tribal lands. Thou­sands of na­tive chil­dren were sent to board­ing schools so they would learn An­glo-saxon cul­ture, lan­guage and tra­di­tions. Many were forced to take “Chris­tian” names. (Haa­land’s great-grand­fa­ther was sent to the in­fa­mous Carlisle In­dian In­dus­trial School, a board­ing school in Penn­syl­va­nia, and her grand­mother was sent to a sim­i­lar pro­gram in Santa Fe.)

Through the pol­icy of ter­mi­na­tion, in the 1950s and 1960s, Congress de­clared that var­i­ous tribes would no longer re­ceive fed­eral recog­ni­tion, thus deny­ing them ben­e­fits and other so­cial ser­vices. Na­tive Amer­i­cans weren’t granted ci­ti­zen­ship un­til 1924 and were not able to vote in many states for decades af­ter. In New Mex­ico—which ar­gued that be­cause Amer­i­can In­di­ans liv­ing on reser­va­tions did not pay

TO CARE FOR THE LAND—IS A CEN­TRAL VALUE. we make pol­icy about our land, “THE WAYS THAT

OR THE USE OF IT, CAN AF­FECT GEN­ER­A­TIONS.”

prop­erty taxes, they were in­el­i­gi­ble to vote—they gained the right only af­ter a vet­eran of World War II sued the state in 1948.

Poli­cies that cur­tail Na­tive Amer­i­cans’ rights re­main. Ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Congress of Amer­i­can In­di­ans, just 66 per­cent of Amer­i­can In­di­ans and Alaska Na­tives are reg­is­tered to vote. Though Latino reg­is­tra­tion is 57 per­cent, Na­tive Amer­i­cans’ turnout rate is his­tor­i­cally low, con­sis­tently 5 to 14 per­cent­age points lower than other racial and eth­nic groups. That’s partly be­cause of unique ob­sta­cles to vot­ing, in­clud­ing the re­quire­ment of tra­di­tional street ad­dresses. Polling places can be far from ru­ral reser­va­tions, with vot­ers some­times hav­ing to travel hours to reg­is­ter or cast a bal­lot. Na­tive Amer­i­cans on one Nevada reser­va­tion had to travel 270 miles roundtrip to get to the clos­est polling place in 2016. That year, two tribes there sued the sec­re­tary of state un­der the Vot­ing Rights Act, and a U.S. dis­trict judge or­dered the es­tab­lish­ment of satel­lite polling places on the reser­va­tions.

In Utah’s San Juan County, Na­tive Amer­i­cans out­num­ber white res­i­dents. Af­ter years of ger­ry­man­der­ing to give white vot­ers dis­pro­por­tion­ate power, a fed­eral judge re­drew the lines in De­cem­ber 2017. But ear­lier this year, of­fi­cials kicked a Navajo can­di­date run­ning for county com­mis­sioner off the bal­lot, al­leg­ing that he did not ac­tu­ally live in the state, even though he had voted there for the past 20 years. (Wil­lie Grayeyes’s can­di­dacy was re­in­stated through a court or­der in Au­gust, and he won on Elec­tion Day.) “When that’s what you’re up against, why would you run?” says Natalie Lan­dreth, a se­nior at­tor­ney at the Na­tive Amer­i­can Rights Fund. “The deck has been stacked against Na­tive Amer­i­can can­di­dates for­ever.”

Amer­i­can In­di­ans were also loath to join forces with a gov­ern­ment that has long mis­treated them. Ben Nighthorse Camp­bell, the first Na­tive Amer­i­can sen­a­tor, tells me that dur­ing his first run for of­fice in Colorado, some of his friends won­dered why he’d be in­ter­ested in join­ing the gov­ern­ment of a coun­try that took ev­ery­thing from his peo­ple. “Peo­ple don’t trust the gov­ern­ment,” says 29-yearold Jade Bahr, a cit­i­zen of the North­ern Cheyenne tribe who in Novem­ber won her race for state rep­re­sen­ta­tive in Mon­tana”

Life in In­dian Coun­try is very dif­fer­ent from out­side of it. “On a reser­va­tion, you grow up with a dif­fer­ent life­style,” says Demo­crat Paulette Jor­dan, 38, a cit­i­zen of the Coeur d’alene tribe who ran an un­suc­cess­ful cam­paign for gov­er­nor of Idaho this year. It’s a cul­ture fo­cused on lis­ten­ing, on re­spect for el­ders, on liv­ing har­mo­niously and, across many tribes, on com­ing to con­sen­sus. Those val­ues aren’t eas­ily found in to­day’s po­lit­i­cal cli­mate.

It’s a tan­gi­ble sep­a­ra­tion too. The more than 500 fed­er­ally rec­og­nized Amer­i­can In­dian tribes are sov­er­eign na­tions, which means Na­tive Amer­i­cans are, tech­ni­cally, dual cit­i­zens. Each sovereignty has a gov­ern­ment-to-gov­ern­ment re­la­tion­ship with the United States. Pre­serv­ing and strength­en­ing that sta­tus is a cen­tral goal for Na­tive Amer­i­cans, and there’s a fear that par­tic­i­pat­ing in non­tribal elec­tions puts it at risk.

Will the fed­eral gov­ern­ment re­vive its ter­mi­na­tion poli­cies, asked Na­tive Amer­i­can au­thor Jerry Stubben in 2006, if of­fi­cials see Na­tive Amer­i­cans as “so as­sim­i­lated that their own gov­ern­ing struc­tures and in­sti­tu­tions are no longer nec­es­sary”?

haa­land talks slowly and softly, at times with an al­most singsong lilt. She has a square face with deep dim­ples in both cheeks that linger even when she fur­rows her brow. Though her long black hair takes for­ever to blow dry, she doubts she’ll ever cut it be­cause of its na­tive sym­bol­ism, to dark clouds: “You want to keep your hair long,” she tells me, “so that the rain will come.”

Her mother is La­guna, and her fa­ther, who died in 2005, was Nor­we­gian-amer­i­can. “My mother still raised us in a pue­blo house­hold,” she tells me. “In spite of the fact that we moved around a lot, we still kept those strong ties to my grand­par­ents and our com­mu­nity of La­guna Pue­blo. You can be na­tive wher­ever you are.”

We’re at a café near the Univer­sity of New Mex­ico cam­pus. Haa­land tells me that pol­i­tics was not a big part of her early life. Her dad fought in Viet­nam for two years, and the fam­ily had a small black-and-white TV in the kitchen and would watch for news of the war over din­ner, but that was the only men­tion of cur­rent af­fairs. Her par­ents, both reg­is­tered Repub­li­cans, sup­ported

Ron­ald Rea­gan in 1980. Haa­land was fi­nally old enough to vote, and she fol­lowed her par­ents. Af­ter learn­ing more about Rea­gan—namely, that he was what she calls a “war­mon­ger”—she switched her party reg­is­tra­tion to Demo­crat and vowed to do her own can­di­date re­search from then on.

Af­ter high school, she worked at a bak­ery in Al­bu­querque, work­ing the reg­is­ter and dec­o­rat­ing cakes. When she was 28, braid­ing her hair one day be­fore her shift, she had a mo­ment of clar­ity. “I was like, ‘Am I go­ing to be do­ing this for the rest of my life?’” Nei­ther of her par­ents went to col­lege, and she didn’t know what she needed to do to get there. A fam­ily friend at the Bu­reau of In­dian Af­fairs helped her ap­ply to the Univer­sity of New Mex­ico. She got preg­nant dur­ing her se­nior year, and by the time she grad­u­ated with an English de­gree, she was nine months along, her cherry-red gown tight against her belly. Four days later, she gave birth to her daugh­ter, Somah.

Haa­land started a salsa com­pany, Pue­blo Salsa, and trav­eled all around the South­west to sell her goods at state fairs and fiery food con­ven­tions. As a sin­gle mom, she brought Somah with her ev­ery­where, blast­ing Ala­nis Moris­sette’s Jagged Lit­tle Pill from the car stereo. In be­tween road trips, she stayed cur­rent on pol­i­tics. In 2002, when vot­ers on the Lakota In­dian reser­va­tion turned a tight race for a South Dakota Se­nate seat—in­cum­bent Demo­crat Tim John­son won re-elec­tion by just 528 votes—she was blown away. “That re­ally in­spired me,” she says. “In­di­ans de­cided be­tween a Demo­crat and a Repub­li­can in this state. And that im­pressed me deeply.”

In law school at the Univer­sity of New Mex­ico, in 2004, one of her class­mates flipped open his lap­top to re­veal a red-white-and­blue John Kerry bumper sticker. She asked him how she could get in­volved, and she started vol­un­teer­ing in Kerry’s Al­bu­querque field of­fice. A few years later, her for­mer con­sti­tu­tional law pro­fes­sor was re­cruit­ing for a women’s can­di­date train­ing pro­gram called Emerge New Mex­ico and asked her to ap­ply. She had never even thought of run­ning for of­fice. “I just had the inkling to trust her, trust her judg­ment,” Haa­land tells me. “If I was left up to my own de­vices, I may not have thought of it.”

She grad­u­ated from the pro­gram in 2007 and soon vol­un­teered full-time for Barack Obama’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, tak­ing car­loads of peo­ple out to the pueb­los to can­vass. Dur­ing his re-elec­tion cam­paign, she be­came Obama’s Na­tive Amer­i­can vote direc­tor for the state. Haa­land ran for lieu­tenant gov­er­nor two years later (her mom be­came a Demo­crat so she could vote for her in the pri­mary) and, though she lost the gen­eral elec­tion by 14 points, she be­came chair of the state Demo­cratic Party in 2015.

Through­out, she worked to reg­is­ter Na­tive Amer­i­can vot­ers, go­ing to fairs and pa­rades and rodeos to sign peo­ple up. La­guna isn’t in her con­gres­sional dis­trict, but two Amer­i­can In­dian com­mu­ni­ties are, and dur­ing her cam­paign she as­signed vol­un­teers to ac­tively court those vot­ers. She didn’t set out to put her Na­tive Amer­i­can iden­tity, the his­toric na­ture of her can­di­dacy, front and cen­ter. But as she started do­ing more in­ter­views, that’s what ev­ery­one wanted to talk about. She shrugs. “It’s who I am,” she says. Why not lean into it?

We’re eat­ing sopaip­il­las smoth­ered with honey and green chile, which goes on ev­ery­thing from tacos to cheese­burg­ers. She takes a bite. “I think peo­ple, above all, want to know that they’re be­ing rep­re­sented by some­body who un­der­stands what it’s like to be them.”

there’s some de­bate over who the first na­tive amer­i­can man to serve in Congress was, mostly be­cause as­sim­i­la­tion ef­forts meant that many peo­ple had some amount of Amer­i­can In­dian an­ces­try. Richard Cain, a South Carolina abo­li­tion­ist who was first elected to Congress in 1873, was the son of an African-born fa­ther and Chero­kee In­dian mother. Charles Cur­tis, a con­gress­man and sen­a­tor from Kansas who even­tu­ally be­came Her­bert Hoover’s vice pres­i­dent, was half Na­tive Amer­i­can and grew up on the Kaw reser­va­tion. There have been a hand­ful of other Na­tive Amer­i­can men to serve in Congress. To­day, the only two cur­rently serv­ing are both Repub­li­cans from Ok­la­homa.

“A lot of the role I end up play­ing is ed­u­cat­ing other mem­bers,” says Tom Cole, a cit­i­zen of the Chick­a­saw Na­tion who has rep­re­sented Ok­la­homa’s 4th Con­gres­sional Dis­trict since 2003. Many of his peers don’t un­der­stand Na­tive Amer­i­can is­sues or the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s re­spon­si­bil­ity to tribes. Most of what he deals with, he ex­plains, boils down to tribal sovereignty and a doc­trine known as trust re­spon­si­bil­ity, which stip­u­lates that the prop­erty of Na­tive Amer­i­cans is un­der the charge of the United States. That re­spon­si­bil­ity, a fun­da­men­tal tenet of re­la­tions with Amer­i­can In­dian tribes, re­quires the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to pro­tect and en­hance the prop­erty and re­sources of Na­tive Amer­i­cans. But, he says, be­cause the doc­trine is not cod­i­fied in any sin­gle doc­u­ment, “the fed­eral gov­ern­ment has to be re-ed­u­cated ev­ery gen­er­a­tion on this. It’s a never-end­ing bat­tle.”

Like other mi­nori­ties, when na­tive voices aren’t rep­re­sented in pol­i­cy­mak­ing, their is­sues aren’t heard, and their com­mu­ni­ties of­ten suf­fer.

The opi­oid cri­sis, for in­stance, has rav­aged the na­tion as a whole—but it has par­tic­u­larly dev­as­tated

Na­tive Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ties, where over­pre­scrib­ing has filled in for in­ad­e­quate health care. Be­tween 1999 and 2015, Na­tive Amer­i­cans and Alaska Na­tives saw a five­fold in­crease in over­dose deaths, a higher in­crease than any other group, ac­cord­ing to Se­nate tes­ti­mony from the chief med­i­cal of­fi­cer at the U.S. In­dian Health Ser­vice. At least 20 tribes are su­ing opi­oid man­u­fac­tur­ers and dis­trib­u­tors, al­leg­ing that the firms ag­gres­sively mar­keted the drugs and shipped large vol­umes of painkillers to ar­eas near reser­va­tions.

Nearly 12 per­cent of Na­tive Amer­i­cans die of al­co­hol-re­lated causes, more than three times the per­cent­age for the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion. At some point in Haa­land’s youth—she doesn’t re­mem­ber ex­actly when—she started drink­ing, fi­nally get­ting sober in her mid-20s. In an ad for her cam­paign, in be­tween declar­ing her­self a cham­pion for kids and broad­cast­ing her sup­port for af­ford­able health care, she men­tioned that she is 30 years sober. “That is some­thing that I want peo­ple to know about me,” she tells me. “That I know what it’s like.” This ex­pe­ri­ence is, in part, why she’s pledged more re­sources for re­cov­ery ser­vices, as well as Medi­care for all.

Na­tive Amer­i­can women are also more vul­ner­a­ble to vi­o­lence. Hun­dreds have gone miss­ing across the coun­try; at the end of last year, the FBI had 633 open miss­ing per­son cases for Na­tive Amer­i­can women. A 2016 Depart­ment of Jus­tice study showed that 84 per­cent of Amer­i­can In­dian women have ex­pe­ri­enced vi­o­lence, and 56 per­cent have en­dured sex­ual vi­o­lence.

Sa­vanna Lafon­taine-grey­wind, a 22-year-old in Fargo, North Dakota, was eight months preg­nant when she went miss­ing last Au­gust. Her body was even­tu­ally found in a nearby river, while her baby was found in the apart­ment of her killer af­ter it had been cut out of her mother’s womb. The story was a ma­jor rea­son why Min­nesota state Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Peggy Flana­gan de­cided to run for lieu­tenant gov­er­nor. Flana­gan, a Demo­crat and a cit­i­zen of the White Earth Na­tion band of Ojibwe In­di­ans, says Lafon­taine-grey­wind was well-known in na­tive com­mu­ni­ties but vir­tu­ally ig­nored by most main­stream me­dia out­lets. “At best, we are in­vis­i­ble,” she says. “At worst, we are dis­pos­able.”

Many of the Na­tive Amer­i­can can­di­dates I talked to spoke of their cul­ture’s deep re­spect for the en­vi­ron­ment as an in­flu­ence on their pol­i­tics. An­dria Tupola, a Repub­li­can who fell short in her cam­paign for gov­er­nor of Hawaii this year, tells me her Na­tive Hawai­ian back­ground has made her more en­vi­ron­men­tally aware. In Hawai­ian, “malama ‘aina”—to care for the land—is a cen­tral value. “The ways that we make pol­icy about our land, or the use of it, can af­fect gen­er­a­tions,” Tupola, who’s 37, says.

In Congress, Haa­land says she will cham­pion re­new­able en­ergy and af­ford­able health care and ad­vo­cate for Amer­i­can In­dian is­sues. But that ad­vo­cacy will also in­clude cel­e­brat­ing tribes’ suc­cesses, like new busi­nesses or thriv­ing schools. Ac­cord­ing to the First Na­tions De­vel­op­ment In­sti­tute, “the most per­sis­tent and toxic neg­a­tive nar­ra­tive is the myth that many Na­tive Amer­i­cans

“AT BEST, we are in­vis­i­ble. “AT WORST,

WE ARE DIS­POS­ABLE.”

re­ceive gov­ern­ment ben­e­fits and are get­ting rich off casi­nos.” Non-na­tives also as­so­ciate poverty and al­co­holism with Amer­i­can In­dian tribes. “We have a lot of good sto­ries to tell too,” Haa­land tells me. “And I think peo­ple should know about them.”

to some ex­tent, the record num­ber of na­tive amer­i­can can­di­dates is a part of the larger women-led re­sis­tance to Trump. But the pres­i­dent’s harsh treat­ment of the na­tive pop­u­la­tion, in his busi­ness ca­reer and in the White House, pro­vided ex­tra mo­ti­va­tion. In a 1993 con­gres­sional hear­ing on Amer­i­can In­dian gam­ing, he said mem­bers of a fed­er­ally rec­og­nized Con­necti­cut tribe “don’t look like In­di­ans to me.” In 2000, he waged an ex­ten­sive ad cam­paign against Amer­i­can In­dian casi­nos, ac­cus­ing Na­tive Amer­i­cans of ram­pant drug use and mob ties. He’s taunted Mas­sachusetts Sen­a­tor El­iz­a­beth War­ren—who claims, with scant ev­i­dence, that she’s part Na­tive Amer­i­can—as “Poc­a­hon­tas,” which many Na­tive Amer­i­cans con­sider a racial slur. He held an event hon­or­ing Navajo code talk­ers who served in World War II in front of a por­trait of An­drew Jack­son, whose poli­cies led to the Trail of Tears.

Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion has sought to limit Na­tive Amer­i­cans’ ac­cess to Med­i­caid. It also shrank Utah’s Bears Ears Na­tional Mon­u­ment, which con­tains sa­cred Na­tive Amer­i­can sites, so the land could be de­vel­oped for min­ing and drilling. Haa­land, who ran in a heav­ily Demo­cratic dis­trict, made op­po­si­tion to the pres­i­dent a touch­stone of her cam­paign, brand­ing her­self “Don­ald Trump’s worst night­mare.” She tells me that “he needs an In­dian 101. I don’t think he un­der­stands any­thing about tribes.”

The in­fu­sion of cash from casino gam­bling has also been a fac­tor in the num­ber of Na­tive Amer­i­cans run­ning for of­fice. Thanks to the 1988 In­dian Gam­ing Reg­u­la­tory Act, tribes have the re­sources to help fund po­lit­i­cal pur­suits. “Be­ing in pol­i­tics re­quires money,” says Richard Ber­nal, the gov­er­nor of San­dia Pue­blo, which is just north of Al­bu­querque. “The sup­port is there for the tribes now.”

But it’s also the fruits of years of or­ga­niz­ing. In 2015, South Dakota state Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Kevin Killer co-founded Ad­vance Na­tive Po­lit­i­cal Lead­er­ship with Flana­gan and two oth­ers af­ter be­ing frus­trated that Na­tive Amer­i­can voices were be­ing left out of the po­lit­i­cal con­ver­sa­tion. “We need to make sure that we’re rep­re­sented at ev­ery sin­gle level,” Killer, who’s 39 and now a state sen­a­tor, says. “Not only the can­di­dates, but also cam­paign man­agers, field or­ga­niz­ers, fundrais­ing di­rec­tors.” In Septem­ber, the group held its in­au­gu­ral Na­tive Power-build­ing Sum­mit, in Al­bu­querque, which fea­tured work­shops and train­ings rang­ing from how to fi­nance a cam­paign to how to get a po­lit­i­cal mes­sage out.

“It’s been slowly build­ing,” Killer tells me. South Dakota didn’t re­peal its state law deny­ing Amer­i­can In­di­ans the right to vote un­til 1951, and other le­gal re­stric­tions kept them from vot­ing in some county elec­tions un­til as late as 1980. That was Killer’s grand­par­ents’ gen­er­a­tion. “Then our par­ents have the where­withal to ac­tu­ally say, ‘OK, maybe we should vote, or maybe we should talk

an In­dian 101. “TRUMP NEEDS

I DON’T THINK HE UN­DER­STANDS ANY­THING ABOUT TRIBES.”

about pol­i­tics.’ So they start vot­ing, and then they im­part it to us.” His gen­er­a­tion is tak­ing the next step: run­ning for of­fice.

Last year, in New Mex­ico, Sec­re­tary of State Mag­gie Toulouse Oliver started a Na­tive Amer­i­can Vot­ing Task Force to in­crease voter reg­is­tra­tion and turnout among Amer­i­can In­dian com­mu­ni­ties. The group, which does not have any state fund­ing, has put on in­for­mal voter reg­is­tra­tion drives in pueb­los and Amer­i­can In­dian com­mu­ni­ties across the state, and this year is­sued the state’s first Na­tive Amer­i­can vot­ing guide, which in­cludes in­for­ma­tion on na­tive lan­guage in­ter­preters at polling places. On Elec­tion Day, 69,000 Na­tive Amer­i­cans were reg­is­tered to vote in New Mex­ico, ac­cord­ing to data from the sec­re­tary of state’s of­fice. Forty-six per­cent cast bal­lots, 10 points be­low the state av­er­age. Still, na­tive turnout was up from the 2014 midterms, when just 39 per­cent voted. (The data only in­clude vot­ers in precincts on pue­blo or reser­va­tion land, not na­tives liv­ing in Al­bu­querque and other non­tribal ar­eas.)

Such ad­vances have, like many 2018 cam­paigns with a mi­nor­ity can­di­date, been met with racial chal­lenges. Be­cause Haa­land’s fa­ther was white, some ques­tioned her de­ci­sion to put her Na­tive Amer­i­can iden­tity at the fore­front of her cam­paign. Her op­po­nent, Repub­li­can Jan­ice Arnold-jones, cast doubt on Haa­land’s his­tory-mak­ing po­ten­tial. “There’s no doubt that her lin­eage is La­guna, but she is a mil­i­tary brat, just like I am,” Arnold-jones said in an in­ter­view with Fox News. “I think it evokes im­ages that she was raised on a reser­va­tion.” And re­cently, on her cam­paign Face­book page, some­one asked why she’s deny­ing her Nor­we­gian her­itage. “I’m like, ‘I’m not deny­ing it.’ My last name is Haa­land, for God’s sake,” she says. “That’s Nor­we­gian.”

“I am who I am,” Haa­land adds. “I choose to iden­tify as Na­tive Amer­i­can. That’s who I am. That’s the cul­ture I’m clos­est to be­cause my mom and my grand­mother taught me so much.”

on a hazy wed­nes­day evening in au­gust, i drive to the in­dian Pue­blo Cul­tural Cen­ter in Al­bu­querque, where Haa­land is host­ing a fundraiser with tribal lead­ers from var­i­ous pueb­los. As I make my way around the room, the most com­mon re­frain I hear is some vari­a­tion of: Af­ter years of be­ing left out of the con­ver­sa­tion, we’re fi­nally be­ing seen.

When I ask Ri­cardo Cam­pos, a 65-year-old Na­tive Amer­i­can who lives in Al­bu­querque, what Haa­land’s can­di­dacy means to him, he clasps his hands to­gether and looks at me. “It’s a long time com­ing,” he tells me, tears run­ning down his face. Kevin Bel­tran, a 25-year-old cit­i­zen of the Zuni Pue­blo, says that her as­cent to Congress gives Na­tive Amer­i­cans “an op­por­tu­nity to be heard.” Ray Loretto, the for­mer gov­er­nor of Je­mez Pue­blo, tells me, “We haven’t been quite on the map. I hope our voice can be car­ried all the way to Wash­ing­ton.”

Lynn Toledo, a cousin of Haa­land’s, works for the Je­mez Pue­blo. We chat for a few min­utes, and she tells me Haa­land can help Na­tive Amer­i­cans be­cause she un­der­stands what life is like for them. Sud­denly, she bursts into tears. “It re­ally did hit me,” she says, her voice drop­ping to a whis­per. “We’re not for­got­ten. We’re still here.”

As she weeps, the rain starts to pour fever­ishly out­side, pool­ing on the bal­cony and ob­scur­ing the view of the San­dia Moun­tains. Light­ning flashes in the dis­tance. She turns away from the peo­ple milling around the room and to­ward the floor-to-ceil­ing win­dows over­look­ing the city. “The Earth is cry­ing too.”

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