Three North Dakota challenges for Ruth Buffalo: She’s a woman. She’s Native. And she’s a Democrat

Updated: North Dakota Republicans obsess about Buffalo the same way national Republicans can’t stop talking about Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar

The main thing to remember: Ruth Buffalo won.

She worked hard to win a seat in the North Dakota legislature that had been held by a Republican (who just happened to author the law that attacked tribal voting rights). And by most accounts she has been extraordinarily successful for a freshman already authoring legislation that has become state law.

That has made her a target from right wing media.

“What they’re really agitated about is that a woman, Native, Democrat managed to get elected in Fargo,” said Mike Jacobs with a laugh. “It’s just baffling, you know? It’s baffling to Republicans who think they have all these answers. There is an assumption that they’re going to be victorious in every legislative race.”

Jacobs is the former editor of the Grand Forks Herald and still a weekly columnist. He describes North Dakota as a state with a “pretty complicated political heritage.”

“It switched back and forth from being extremely conservative to being not extremely liberal but pretty progressive,” he said. “At the moment, the political climate is dominated by conservative Republicans, many of whom would identify as Libertarians or Tea Party Republicans.”

Buffalo worked hard to get elected as a state representative. She is a citizen of the Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara Nation and was elected in a district that is less than 1 percent American Indian and Alaska Native. Indeed, in the entire city of Fargo, is 50.4 percent male and 49.6 percent female, according to the 2010 Census. It is also 1.4 percent American Indian or Alaska Native, 2.2 percent Hispanic or Latino, 2.7 percent Black or African American, 3 percent Asian, and 90.2 percent White.

So Buffalo’s election was a huge upset when it comes to the demographics of the district, which is the southern part of Fargo, and Fargo itself.

“Welcome to politics they said,” Buffalo wrote on her social media.

It was then followed with blocks of text by her and supporters saying:

“There’s more of us coming.

There’s more of us coming.

There’s more of us coming.

There’s more of us coming.

There’s more of us coming.

There’s more of us coming.

There’s more of us coming.”

Buffalo said over the phone that she’s thankful to be elected to office despite all the right-wing media attacks. She doesn’t want it to discourage anyone else from running for office in the future.

“If I have to bite the bullet to get more people like me into office, I will continue to stand up against injustice and not be silenced,” she said. “I know they’re trying to break me.”

With 16 days left in legislature, she is choosing to focus on the work and will not respond to their requests for statements.

The High Plains Reader, a 25-year-old newsweekly, first reported about the constant right-winged media attacks on Buffalo.

The story came out of the most recent blog post from Rob Port of Say Anything Blog where Port reached out to Buffalo about her pay for a speaking engagement at a Represent.us gala in Nashville, Tennessee. The state legislator didn’t respond to his attempts.

He blogged again and said, “When politicians duck tough questions, that’s a story in mind.” And also pointed out that she’s “not a victim.”

High Plains Reader wrote that Buffalo refused to respond to Port’s question because “she knows her words will be twisted to fit their agendas.”

Host Chris Berg of POVnow also goes after Buffalo for her support of Rep. Ilhan Omar on Twitter during his show.

On Wednesday Fox News attacked Omar when"Fox & Friends" co-host Brian Kilmeade questioned if the Minnesota representative had a “dual loyalty.” Omar is the the first Somali American elected to Congress. 

Berg posted a picture of Buffalo and Omar from social media. 

Berg didn't respond to Indian Country Today's multiple attempts for a comment. 

Berg reached out to Buffalo via email for a statement about her support for Omar and her 9/11 comments. 

"She refers to the terror attacks as, 'some people did something... What is your reaction to her statement about the 9/11 attacks? Do you agree with her comments? Do you support her speaking at a CAIR event knowing that CAIR has ties to terror orgs like Hamas and Hezbollah?" Berg wrote in an email. 

The part of Omar's 20-minute speech Berg refers to is, "CAIR was founded after 9/11 because they recognized that some people did something and that all of us were starting to lose access to our civil liberties."

Berg continued his comments on his show last night and said her not respond is "just as disgusting and sad as the comments there from Representative Omar." Buffalo chose to focus on her legislation rather than respond. 

The Washington Post's report provided more context to Omar's statement at the Council on American-Islamic Relations banquet.

The report says "Omar used the opportunity to make the case for Muslim activism" one week after the New Zealand mosques shootings. 

"She said that 'tragic nightmare' of the shootings in New Zealand was not shocking or surprising to many in the room. 'Many of us were holding our breath waiting for something like this to happen,' she said, pointing directly at President Trump in assigning blame," reported The Post. 

Last month Buffalo stood by her friend. "It's hard to sit and watch someone get attacked, so in turn, now I'm being attacked for sharing my support for her," Buffalo, a 2016 graduate of NDSU, told the Fargo Forum.

Berg invited Buffalo on his podcast along with Tore Maras-Lindeman, who threatened Buffalo’s children on Facebook. The state legislator didn’t go on his show, but Maras-Lindeman did.

North Dakota Highway Patrol investigated it and said, “… we didn’t feel there was any direct threat from what occurred today.”

Even then, these social media threats have state legislators and lawmakers concerned about their safety and their loved ones. 

Rep. Ocasio-Cortez tweeted yesterday that she, Rep. Omar, and others receive more death threats when "uncalled for rhetoric" is blasted by conservative groups. Lawmakers then inform the Capitol Police. 

Despite all the social media and media critics, Buffalo continues to stay focused on her district and says that it’s all a distraction from the real work.

Buffalo claps back with legislation instead of witty responses via Twitter. 

It’s been four months since she’s taken the oath to office and she already has four of the eight bills she’s introduced signed by Gov. Doug Burgum as of April 8. A fifth bill, she said, will most likely get passed soon.

The bills include creating a database for missing persons in North Dakota with a special provision to missing and murdered Indigenous people, allowing students to wear eagle feathers or eagle plumes for graduation, and training law enforcement on human trafficking prevention. She also successfully passed a resolution that would support Savanna’s Act.

Her supporters and North Dakota residents applauded her “good work” on social media and use humor to deflect the criticism.

Case in point, referencing Mariah Carey’s song “Obsessed” in a gif. 

Jacobs agrees with Buffalo that she is receiving so much attention because North Dakota legislators are not used to a Native Democratic woman in the office. Not only is it because she’s a Democrat, the scrutiny would be there for any Democrat, he said. But it’s a consequence of all past events that recently happened in the state, such as the voter ID laws and Standing Rock, have led to her getting more attention.

“It has an extra little bit of sting in North Dakota at the moment because there’s some animosity, bitterness, disappointment, anger, whatever word you want to choose, in the state toward the loss of the fighting Sioux nickname and logo at the university and handling of the protests at Standing Rock,” he said. “I would say there’s more - prejudice isn't the right word - reaction against Native issues than there would have been 10 years ago.”

And that would be the tie to Rep. Alexandria Occasio-Cortez, D-New York, who was inspired to run for office after her trip to Standing Rock.

Buffalo’s legislative results prove “she’s a serious legislator,” said Jacobs. “It’s not a fluke that she’s there.” And she will probably be re-elected.

Until then, Buffalo has less than two years to keep challenging the status quo. 

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Jourdan Bennett-Begaye, Diné, is a reporter/producer for Indian Country Today in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter: @jourdanbb. Email: jbennett-begaye@indiancountrytoday.com

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Comments (2)
No. 1-2
Snippets_In_Time
Snippets_In_Time

"Manifest Destiny" minds are a dying breed.... The times they are a-changin'!!

barbreader
barbreader

Love this story. Thank you! Looking forward to reading more about Ms. Buffalo!