Deb Haaland stands in front of her sign and addresses the camera. As a seasoned candidate it’s something she does often. She makes yet another pitch.
“Hi, I'm Deb Haaland and I'm the Democratic nominee for Congress in New Mexico's first district. It's our time as women leaders. It's our time to stand up against the atrocities happening in this nation and rise together through a unified voice. Debra Lekanoff and I often stand shoulder to shoulder on our commitment to representation in our communities. Be a voice in your community by casting your ballot on election day.”
The video is called “Standing Shoulder to Shoulder.” Lekanoff, who is running in Washington state for a House seat in the 40th district, responded: "Having the support of a sisterhood running for office this election cycle reminds me everyday that we are all in this together. #WeRise together, support one another, and work in the best interest of our communities always."
This might be the most powerful idea in this election year, a political network of Native women that that reaches across the country. It includes Haaland, Laguna Pueblo; Lekanoff, Tlingit; Sharice Davids, Ho Chunk; Paulette Jordan, Coeur d’Alene; Peggy Flanagan, White Earth; Alexandra Frederick, Lakota; Ruth Buffalo, Mandan Hidatsa Arikara; Ashley McCray, Absentee Shawnee; and more, fifty plus.
And it’s not just the candidates: Designer Bethany Yellowtail’s #SheRepresents tee shirts fit this narrative, too. (Her effort is bipartisan.)
The shirts made their way across the country fast. On Facebook, Rep. Tiffany Zulkosky, Yupik, running for the Alaska legislature posted: “Here in Alaska, we have artists and advocates transforming how we express ourselves - in art, music, and policy - while staying anchored in and founded on the truths of our ancestors. We are not alone. Our Lower 48 family is doing the same thing. B.Yellowtailis no exception. She is an incredible fashion designer, revolutionizing how to reflect her Apsaalooke (Crow) and Tsetsehestahese & So'taeo'o (Northern Cheyenne) heritage in wearable art. To stand in solidarity with a historic number of Native American women running for public office, B.Yellowtail designed a "She Represents" tee that highlights the 55 Native American women by name - with proceeds supporting the "Advance Native Political Action Fund." I was so surprised + humbled to learn I, a small-town Alaska girl, was included in that list!”
Scroll through Instagram and search for #SheRepresents and it’s clear that this is not just about this election or any one race.
For example folks posted tee shirts and comments about the Supreme Court’s support for North Dakota’s disenfranchisement of Native voters. Jaclyn Roessel, Navajo, wrote that the “voter ID law is further testament to the pervasive white supremacist structures still at work in this country. Voter suppression is a flagrant colonial tactic that has long been used in the U.S. Make time to check on your voter’s status as deadlines are coming close … support the many Native women running in our communities who are facing the colonial machine this November.”
But most of this network is Democratic, the Republican women who are running for office tend to focus more on an individual campaign. The Democrats see a shared mission.
Last June, for example, Paulette Jordan and Idaho’s Democratic Nominee for Governor, took time out of her campaign to help get out the vote in Albuquerque. She was at Haaland’s headquarters on the night of her historic primary win.
“As Native American women, no one is an outsider to the system like Deb Haaland and I are. Our political system was not designed to elect women of color, and so we must work harder than anyone else to overcome that culture of political insiders and dark money in order to truly represent the people we wish to serve,” Jordan wrote in an email that went to Haaland supporters just before the primary. “I’ve been following Deb’s campaign since she announced over a year ago — I can tell she’s a fighter like me! She absolutely can win her race with the swell of grassroots support that surrounds her campaign. I saw it work on mine, and I’m confident she will have the same success.”
And Haaland went to Kansas, standing shoulder to shoulder Sharice David. And often on social media there will be a button that links the two candidates together, donate to one, and donate to both.
In September Davids and Haaland visited students on the campus of Haskell Indian Nations University. “There is not one way to look like an American. There is not one way to be successful. There is not one way to be a changemaker,” Davids told The Indian Leader. Davids, Ho Chunk, is a Haskell alumni.
Davids said in a speech that she and Haaland both went to the summer law program at the American Indian Law Center “a program that changed my life and enabled me to even be in a position to run for Congress. We weren’t in the same class, but I felt connected to her,” Davids said. “The first time I called Deb, she was like, ‘If you need to sleep on my couch, you can.’ In some ways, I almost feel … just hearing her on the other end in that first call, telling me, ‘Yes, do this!’ was the validation I needed.”
And when a candidate is attacked? There is an immediate response. After a former GOP official’s rant against Sharice Davids last week, Haaland tweeted. “The racist attack on @ShariceDavids is the new GOP low. In 27 days, Kansans will go to the polls and vote Sharice because she, not Kevin Yoder, is the best person to represent their values in Congress. I'm donating to her campaign today, will you join me?”
This is a new political network for our age.
“The fact that we are in 2018 and we are still seeing all these firsts is mind-boggling to me,” Sharice Davids told The Guardian. “When I stop and think about it, it makes me very proud to be a part of this movement that is happening in our country. I feel like all of us are playing a role in this.”
It’s not always been this way. Congressional candidates used to pretty much run on their own. (And multiple that factor by many times if you think about Native women running for office). But now there is this network that will improve prospects for fundraising, shared advice, support, messaging, and, well, sisterhood.
Mark Trahant is editor of Indian Country Today. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Follow him on Twitter -@TrahantReports
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Indian Country Today will stream a live coast-to-coast newscast on election day partnering with FNX / First Nations Experience and Native Voice One. The newscast will begin at 6 pm Pacific / 9 pm Eastern. Hashtag: #NativeElectionNight