The United State’s 117th Congress marks triumphant firsts, including a record number of Native American women.
At 59, Deb Haaland, a Laguna Pueblo member representing New Mexico, Tweeted her successful win: “Proud of the confidence New Mexicans have in me to work for our families and bring their voices to Congress. Can’t wait to continue delivering for New Mexico next Congress!”
Sharice Davids, 40, is a Ho-Chunk Nation member representing Kansas. She is the first openly LGBTQI Native American elected to the US Congress, and the first openly gay person to be elected to the U.S Congress from Kansas.
Cherokee Republican, Yvette Herrell will also continue her position as Representative-elect for New Mexico’s second congressional district, after beating the Democratic incumbent Xochitl Torres Small. Deb Haaland and Yvette Herrell’s wins secure New Mexico as the first state to have two indigenous women as congressional delegates.
The state of more than 2.35 million people has also become the first state to elect culturally diverse women as all three of its delegates in the U.S House of Representatives. A total of eighteen indigenous women ran for congressional seats this year, setting a new record.
The Center for American Women and Politics also reported that despite Native American women having a greater percentage of all women running for the U.S. House and U.S. Senate this year, Native American women remain underrepresented in the full candidate pool for the U.S. House.
This year’s election marks the highest percentage of Native American women running, at 2.6 percent of all women running for Congress.
Historically, a total of four Native Americans have held positions in the US Senate, but they were all men. Haaland and Davids’ 2018 wins broke that trend.
The Republican state of Kansas also saw some other first time wins.
Chickasaw member and retired teacher, Stephanie Byers became the state’s first transgender lawmaker and the nation’s first trans-Native American to win statewide office when she won a seat in its house of representatives.
“We’ve made history here,” Byers told her supporters on Tuesday. “We’ve done something in Kansas most people thought would never happen, and we did it with really no pushback, by just focusing on the issues.”
The 57-year old Democrat beat Republican challenger Cyndi Howerton by 486 votes in the preliminary results announced on Wednesday morning.
“We’ve done something in Kansas most people thought would never happen, and we did it with really no push-back, by just focusing on the issues,” she told Kansas.com.
A member of the Chickasaw Nation, Byers has run Gender.Training with her wife, Lori Haas since 2018. The organisation helps corporations, community groups and schools understand and work with diverse communities and provides online resources to help adults speak to young people about transgender and LGBTQIA issues.
“For me, being transgender is just another aspect of who I am,” she told the Wichita ABC in 2019.
“I am also a member of the Chikasaw Nation. I ride a motorcycle. I’m a musician. I have a bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education. These are all just things that make a part of who I am,” she said. “It’s not what totally defines me.”
At just 26, Navajo Nation member, Christina Haswood became the youngest person to be elected in the Kansas state legislature. She told Inside Business India her interest in politics was born from her aspiration to improve the health and wellbeing of the Native American population around her.
“I would go to roundtable talks and I would look around the room and see I was the only person of colour, the only Indigenous person, and the only young person there,” she said. “The only young Indigenous woman, the only Navajo woman there. This list keeps going on.”
These election wins for Native American women are incredibly positive results considering that Native American communities face more barriers to voting in rural areas than most places in the U.S. The coronavirus pandemic has also added further problems.
Samantha Kelty, an attorney with the Native American Rights Fund, told NPR’s Savannah Maher strict voter registration laws disproportionately impact Natives in some places.
“Poor postal service on reservations makes voting by mail a challenge, and then there’s what NARF calls the tyranny of distance, a problem that’s exacerbated by the pandemic,” she said. “It’s caused worsening economic conditions or loss of jobs. And so when it was hard enough to find enough money for a tank of gas to get to the county seat, now it’s just impossible.”
In the Republican state of Montana, many Native citizens are forced to travel two to three times farther than non-Native people to get to the polls. This year, NARF focused its efforts on building satellite election offices on all seven reservations across the state. The Boulder, Colorado based organisation also helped secure the right of third-party volunteers to collect ballots and deliver them to polls in Montana and Nevada. Native American communities across both states believe it’s an important strategy for getting out the vote.
Other Key Wins
Esther Agbaje won her seat in the U.S. Assembly in Minnesota House of Representatives. She garnered 17,396 votes, which is roughly three quarters of the total ballots cast, beating Republican and former businessman Alan Shilepsky. Abaje was born in Minnesota to Nigerian immigrant parents and studied political science at George Washington University. As a politician, she has focused on fairer public transit, affordable housing and environmental justice, serving on climate groups through TakeAction Minnesota and St. Mark’s Cathedral to promote renewable energy.
Mauree Turner has been elected to Oklahoma’s state House, becoming one of the first non-binary state lawmakers in America and the first Muslim to serve in Oklahoma’s state legislature. At just 27, Turner spent the last few years working as a field director for Campaign for Smart Justice, a criminal justice reform project. Turner’s campaign revolved around criminal justice reform. She is fighting to repair “an industrial prison complex that’s built on revenge and punishment rather than rehabilitation”.
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This was my voting outfit and this is my favorite filter. Haha I just wanna take some time to say: No matter what happens tonight, we’ve done some amazing things here in little Ol’ Oklahoma. Folks, from literally across the world showed up for this fight. We created meaningful space where people saw themselves and where people are empowered to show up whole. We created space for care for community, care for self, and deep community-based changed. I’m so dang proud of what we’ve done and excited for what we’re about to do – no matter what. I voted for hope over fear, for my immigrant siblings, I voted for my incarcerated family, I voted for Black Mommas, and Domestic Violence Survivors. I voted for the future of Oklahoma and what we could be. And I really hope you joined me in that. Nothing About Us Without Us 💛💪🏿 Now let’s finish this fight!
“I have a lot of feelings about tonight,” she said in a Facebook post. “But overall, I’m grateful for HD88 granting me this opportunity. I hate SQ805 and so many other things slipped through Oklahoma’s fingers… But I’m ready to fight hard as hell so they never do again.”
Nikema Williams has won a seat in Georgia’s fifth Congressional District. As the chair of the Democratic Party of Georgia, Williams, 42, joins two other Black women, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and Stacey Abrams among the state’s most well-known Democrats. Williams told supporters she aims to use federal power to provide more subsidised health care and guarantee voting rights.
Democratic Republican Rashida Tlaib, was reelected into the U.S. Representative for Michigan’s 13th congressional district. In 2018, when she won the Democratic nomination for the United States House of Representatives seat, she ran unopposed in the general election and became the first woman of Palestinian descent in Congress, the first Muslim woman to serve in the Michigan legislature, and along with Ilhan Omar, became one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress. She and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are the first female Democratic Socialists of America members to serve in Congress.
Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, has been also been reelected to the U.S. House, representing New York’s 14th Congressional District. She won easily against Republican challenger Republican John C. Cummings, who raised $9.6 million from donors in an attempt to defeat the 31-year old democratic socialist.
At 38, Democratic Ilhan Omar has been re-elected to the House from Minnesota’s fifth congressional district. She is the first Somali American, the first naturalised citizen of African birth, and the first woman of colour to represent Minnesota in the US Congress. In the past, she has been the victim of death threats, harassment and false and misleading claims by Trump for her frequent critic of Israel. Omar has publicly denounced Israel’s settlement policies and military regimes in the occupied Palestinian territories.
Cori Bush, a former working class activist, has been elected to the U.S. House to represent Missouri’s first Congressional District. She becomes the first Black woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Missouri, and was an early leader in the Black Lives Matter protests in Ferguson.
Finally, in Delaware, the nation’s first transgender Democratic state senator, activist Sarah McBride was elected. According to OutforAmerica.org, only four trans people have ever previously been elected to serve in state legislatures.
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This isn’t about voting for ourselves. It isn’t about getting in that ballot box and thinking about you and what you might win or lose. It’s about voting on behalf of our community, our society, our country, and most importantly, to restore our democracy. ilhanomar.com/vote