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Native Americans earn larger voice in Congress

The 2018 midterm elections went well for Native Americans in Congress when the first Native American women were elected to the House of Representatives.

Rep. Sharice Davids, Ho-Chunk Nation, (D-Kansas) and Rep. Deb Haaland, Laguna Pueblo, (D-New Mexico) took their places in history Jan. 3.

Since becoming a member of Congress, Davids has been seated on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, named as Regional Whip by colleagues and co-sponsored a bill to tackle money and corruption in politics.

Haaland has been vocal in her opposition to the government shutdown and participated in a Democratic Steering and Policy Committee and House Natural Resources Committee hearing on the shutdown’s effects on Native American tribes and public lands across the country. She also serves on the U.S. House Armed Services Committee.

Rep. Deb Haaland, Laguna Pueblo, left, and Rep. Sharice Davids, Ho-Chunk Nation, are in their first terms as U.S. Congresswomen. (Rep. Haaland/Twitter)

Haaland was a speaker at the Indigenous People’s March Jan. 18 in Washington, D.C., and released this statement Jan. 19.

“The Indigenous Peoples March is a national platform to raise the issues that negatively impact our communities the most — voter suppression, the border wall, the missing and murdered, human trafficking and lack of resources —just to name a few.

For too long Native communities have been left out of the national/global conversation, and our men, women and children suffer because of it. As one of the first Native American women in Congress, I see it as my responsibility to educate my colleagues about the federal government’s trust responsibility and provide a voice to advocate for those who have historically not had a seat at the table to make a long-awaited change,” the statement read.

The House of Representatives has two other Native American Congressmen; Rep. Tom Cole, Chickasaw, (R-Oklahoma) and Rep. Markwayne Mullin, Cherokee, (R-Oklahoma). They have served since 2003 and 2013, respectively.

As Tribal members and politicians, Tribal Council and Board members are pleased to see more Native Americans in Congress.
“I’m glad to see it, I’m very supportive,” Big Cypress Councilman Mondo Tiger said. “In time, I hope there’s more coming down the road for Native Americans. I’d also like to see that happen here in Florida.”

“I like the idea; we need more representation from the Native American community nationwide,” said Big Cypress Board Rep. Joe Frank. “As incoming freshmen, there will be a learning curve. But if they keep pushing, they can have a good impact.

Other legislators will learn there are Native issues out there. For so long, Tribal folks were disenfranchised voters. Coming from that background it seems that they would be able to stage a better fight for Americans, tribal and non-tribal. Their perspective is different than the mainstream in the House. I’m kind of excited for them and hope they set a good example that Native Americans can emulate.”

“This is groundbreaking,” said Hollywood Board Rep. Gordon Wareham. “Having Native American women’s viewpoint in Congress is huge. In my office, I’m glad I have women around me. They give me different viewpoints. They think about home, family and nurturing; guys are about providing.”

“It is a big deal, but not just from a woman’s perspective; from every Native American’s perspective,” said Erica Deitz, Hollywood President’s office receptionist. “It’s been a long time coming. Natives have been here for eons and now we have a say as part of Congress.”

Rep. Wareham believes Native Americans are the forgotten people and are seen only through a historical viewpoint.

“I hope they bring to light to the nation that we are here today,” he said. “Things that have been happening around the country are also happening on reservations.”

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Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at beverlybidney@semtribe.com.

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