Na­tive Amer­i­can women’s elec­tion to US House cel­e­brated

The Commercial Appeal - - Front Page - Mary Hudetz AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

AL­BU­QUERQUE, N.M. – As a girl, De­bra Haa­land re­mem­bers join­ing her grand­mother as she chopped wood and fetched wa­ter for her home in tiny Me­sita, a Na­tive Amer­i­can com­mu­nity sit­u­ated in New Mex­ico’s high desert.

Haa­land, an en­rolled La­guna Pue­blo mem­ber, is cer­tain it was th­ese early ex­pe­ri­ences and the ex­am­ple of her grand­mother’s work ethic that helped her win a seat in the U.S. House Rep­re­sen­ta­tives on Tues­day – a po­lit­i­cal vic­tory that un­til this year had been be­yond reach for nu­mer­ous Na­tive Amer­i­can women. Her fel­low Demo­crat Sharice Davids, who is Ho-Chunk, also won her his­toric bid to rep­re­sent a U.S. House dis­trict in Kansas.

Their wins add them to a record num­ber of women elected to the U.S. House on Tues­day af­ter an elec­tion cy­cle that also saw a sig­nif­i­cant boost in Na­tive Amer­i­can fe­male can­di­dates at the state and lo­cal lev­els. In an in­ter­view, Haa­land, a for­mer New Mex­ico Demo­cratic Party chair­woman, cred­ited a vast po­lit­i­cal net­work she built af­ter nearly 20 years of work­ing on other can­di­dates’ cam­paigns, her team and vol­un­teers, and her own hard work.

“My grand­mother worked re­ally hard; she ex­pected us to work hard,” Haa­land said. “I mean that in and of it­self is what re­ally sus­tained me. It’s my work ethic.”

Haa­land, 57, will re­place U.S. Rep. Michelle Lu­jan Grisham, a Demo­crat who ran suc­cess­fully for gover­nor this year. Her dis­trict cov­ers Al­bu­querque and a hand­ful of ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties that in­clude tribal com­mu­ni­ties.

Davids’ dis­trict, mean­while, lies in the sub­urbs west of Kansas City. She unseated U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder, a Repub­li­can. In ad­di­tion to be­ing one of the first Na­tive Amer­i­can con­gress­women, she’ll also be the na­tion’s first LGBT Na­tive Amer­i­can to serve as a fed­eral law­maker.

On elec­tion night, Davids, a lawyer and for­mer White House fel­low, high­lighted her life story of be­ing raised by a sin­gle mother, be­ing a first-gen­er­a­tion col­lege stu­dent and work­ing while she was in school, say­ing those ex­pe­ri­ences were not un­usual.

“What is un­com­mon, un­til now, is to have those voices and those sto­ries and those ex­pe­ri­ences truly re­flected in our fed­eral gov­ern­ment, in Congress and the Se­nate,” she said.

The two women will join U.S. Reps. Tom Cole, who is Chick­a­saw, and Mark­wayne Mullin, an en­rolled ci­ti­zen of the Chero­kee Na­tion, in the House. Cole and Mullin are Repub­li­cans, rep­re­sent­ing dis­tricts in Ok­la­homa.

Haa­land and Davids’ wins marked an emo­tional high point for Ka­lyn Free, a ci­ti­zen of the Choctaw Na­tion in Ok­la­homa and for­mer dis­trict at­tor­ney in south­east­ern Ok­la­homa, who has been part of a decades-long push to get Na­tive Amer­i­can women elected to Congress.

“l al­ways say lit­tle In­dian boys and lit­tle In­dian girls can­not be what they can­not see,” Free said. “Now, there are go­ing to be two male Repub­li­cans and two very out­spo­ken, two tal­ented In­dian Demo­crat women who are go­ing to be there as well.”

She re­called do­nat­ing to the 1992 con­gres­sional cam­paign of Ada Deer, a Menom­i­nee woman who ran as a Demo­crat for a seat in Wis­con­sin. Twelve years later, Free her­self ran for Congress in Ok­la­homa and then founded INDN’s List, a po­lit­i­cal or­ga­ni­za­tion that sought to re­cruit and build sup­port for Na­tive Amer­i­can can­di­dates.

De­bra Haa­land, 57, will re­place U.S. Rep. Michelle Lu­jan Grisham, a Demo­crat who ran suc­cess­fully for gover­nor this year. Her dis­trict cov­ers Al­bu­querque and a hand­ful of ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties that in­clude tribal com­mu­ni­ties.

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