|There's never been
a Native American woman elected to federal office yet these
two are seeking to change that
(photo courtesy shariceforcongress.com)
(photo courtesy debforcongress.com)
There have been many political milestones for minorities in
the United States in the past decade, still Americans have yet to
see a Native American congresswoman.
That may soon change. After urging women and people of color
to seek public office, Sharice Davids decided to take her own advice.
Now she's running for Congress.
Davids, a 37-year-old attorney and member of the Ho-Chunk Nation
tribe, hopes to be the first Native American woman elected to Congress,
and hopes to win the Democratic primary in the fall. The Shawnee
resident is vying for the seat in Kansas' third district currently
held by Rep. Kevin Yoder, a Republican who has held the spot since
Davids served as a White House fellow during the final year
of President Obama's administration, where she "saw first-hand the
immediate need for competent, thoughtful people to step up, take
action, and get involved in government," as she explains in her
campaign literature. Before her stint at the White House, Davids
earned a law degree from Cornell Law School.
When asked about how she feels about potentially being the first
Native American woman elected to Congress, Davids told Salon, "It's
just disbelief, like, really? We have a lot of educated Native women
who are active in politics. ... It feels like it's about time."
The daughter of a single mother Army veteran, Davids said she
"knows the importance of hard work and service to country," in a
Davids officially entered the race in Kansas on February 15,
one day after the tragic shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High
School in Parkland, Florida. Naturally, gun violence is on her mind,
and she hopes to act on the issue. "Congress has done so little
up to this point," she said, adding, "it's likely that I will get
the opportunity to participate in some action action on gun safety"
Davids is also prepared to fight for comprehensive immigration
reform and to save Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA),
an Obama-era program that gave limited rights to undocumented youth
who were brought to the U.S. as children and met certain requirements
a program the Trump Administration has decided to end.
If she were to win, Davids would be the nation's first female
Native American member of Congress as well as Kansas' first openly
gay representative. She could possibly share that first distinction
with Debra Haaland, a Native American woman who is running for Congress
in New Mexico as a Democrat. Haaland is running for a seat in New
Mexico's First District.
Haaland is no stranger to politics. Before announcing her congressional
bid, Haaland served as New Mexico's Democratic Party chair
the first Native American woman to chair a state party and
as the Native American vote director for President Obama's re-election
campaign in 2012. She also spent nearly two decades volunteering on
Democratic campaigns, in addition to a failed gubernatorial campaign
(she ran for lieutenant governor in 2014).
Haaland told Salon she is confident in her ability to win the
race, and perhaps she should be. She already has a long list of
endorsements, including the National Organization for Women PAC
(NOW) and the Congressional Black Caucus. And while she is running
for a safe Democratic seat, Haaland has fierce competition. Six
Democrats are facing off in the primary June 5.
Despite nearly 20 years of political experience, Haaland suggests
her work would only be just beginning if she becomes the first female
Native American member of Congress. "If I'm the first, I'll be very
grateful, and I will work hard to make sure that I'm not the last."
Haaland has already inspired several other young women to go into
politics. After a television appearance, one mother messaged her,
saying that her daughter was inspired watching her. Several weeks
later, another mother reached out to say, "We were inspired to watch
you on TV, and my daughter is now going to run for student body president."
In addition to empowering women, Haaland is committed to clean
energy and natural resources, and disapproves of President Trump's
approach to fossil fuels and climate change.
Haaland has been an ardent critic of Donald Trump ever since he
became a presidential candidate, especially for his treatment of Native
Americans. In 2016 she penned an op-ed, blasting the presidential
candidate for his use of the name "Pocahontas" to mock Sen. Elizabeth
Warren. "Trump doesn't understand how or why Native folks choose to
identify themselves or how tribes place individuals on their tribal
rolls," Haaland wrote. "Ignorance is not an excuse." She also said
that Trump's wealth does not excuse his language. "Any presidential
candidate should be held to a high standard and being a billionaire
doesn't excuse you," she wrote. "As Americans we are all responsible
for learning our collective history and being respectful toward one
A congressional victory by either Davids or Haaland would be
historic. While eight Native American men ran for Congress in the
November 2016 election, only two currently serve in the House of
Representatives: Rep. Thomas Cole, R.-Okla., a member of the Chickasaw
Nation; and Rep. Markwayne Mullin, R.-Okla., a member of the Cherokee
While the 115th U.S. Congress has been called "the most diverse
in history," critics contend it still does not accurately resemble
America's increasingly diverse population. According to Pew Research
Center analysis, "Congress as a whole remains disproportionately
white when compared with the U.S. population." Given the flood of
women running for political office this coming election, Capitol
Hill may be even more representative come January.