If there’s any good that has come out of the Trump administration, it’s that diverse populations are more motivated than ever to run for office.
According to NPR, as many as ten Native American women are running for office this year, which is a record. There are currently two Native American men in Congress, both Republicans. The fact that many of the people running this year are liberal women is revolutionary.
Sharice Davids is an ex-MMA fighter and lesbian who is running for Congress in Kansas. In her campaign video, she wears a t-shirt that reads “Strong, Indigenous, Resilient” and pounds a punching bag, saying: “It’s 2018, and women, Native Americans, gay people, the unemployed, and the underemployed have to fight like hell just to survive.”
There’s also Deb Haaland, who just won her Democratic primary in New Mexico and is running for the U.S. House. She is running in a strongly Democratic district in New Mexico, which means she could be the first Native American woman in Congress. Haaland worked on President Obama’s 2008 campaign before chairing the state’s Democratic Party.
This comes after years of voter suppression of Native American folks. There are 6.6 million American Indians and Alaska Natives in the U.S., representing 2 percent of the population, but many live in remote places far away from polling locations. Congress granted native people the right to vote in 1924, but many local and state governments have blocked them from doing so, arguing that Natives living on reservations aren’t state residents.
But Native communities are fighting back. In 2016, the Pyramid Lake Paiute and Walker River Paiute tribes sued the government, charging that tribal citizens had to travel as many as 100 miles to vote. They won, forcing officials to open new polling stations in tribal areas and spurring nine other tribes to request their own election sites. And in Alaska, officials recently rolled out election materials in Yup’ik, Inupiaq, and Gwich’in languages, following federal rulings that found the state had failed to provide these materials.
The sheer number of Indigenous folks running for office further encourages these communities to come out to the polls and fight for a voice in government.
“I just think that it’s really important that a government represents the people that live in their districts,” said one of Haaland’s interns, Dechellie Gray. “Deb always tells the story of her grandparents being sent to boarding school. And my great grandparents experienced The Long Walk. She knows what it’s like and I don’t think that a lot of politicians see that and have first-hand experience of that.”