We need Native American 'champions' in Congress, state offices and legislatures

Veronica Murdock was the first woman to lead the National Congress of American Indians as its president. (Photo by Mark Trahant)

A fundraiser in Denver turns into a testimonial for the idea of Native candidates #NativeVote18 #NativeElectionNight

Veronica Murdock knows what it’s like to be the first woman in office. She was elected president of the National Congress of American Indians in 1977 at the Dallas convention.

On Monday she was speaking on behalf of Deb Haaland, Laguna Pueblo, and the Democratic nominee for Congress in New Mexico’s first district.

We need “our champions” in Congress, in state legislatures, in city councils, she said. “We’re here to persuade our brothers and sisters to get on board,” she said. and, “We love you. We're looking forward to (your election). … We know you're going to do a great job in, in Congress.” Murdock is Mohave. (And in case you are counting, NCAI has only elected two women as its president in its 75 year history. But that’s a better track record than Congress.

At a fundraiser in Denver the historic nature of this election was front and center. So much so that an ordinary hour to collect checks turns into an extraordinary testimonial spoken by many voices.

Cecelia Fire Thunder is former president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. (Photo by Mark Trahant)

“We're all sister friends,” said Cecelia Fire Thunder, former president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. “We've known each other for 45 years. We knew each other and we didn't have any wrinkles.” She talked about a time when the American flag started to appear in Native iconography, “we will learn to use it because our people have to live under it.”

That she said means running for office. Now there’s an “Indian woman who's going to take her place in those halls where we should have been 113 years ago,” she said. “It's really hard to run for office as hard amongst our own people, but especially amongst other people out there, the perception, the bad things they say about you.” She said that’s why our prayers are so important.

“Today in the state of South Dakota, we have six women running for the state legislature, all young women under 40 … and we have one running for secretary of state and we have a one man running for public utilities commission,” she said. “ We have this tremendous movement to get our people to not only run for tribal leadership, but at the state level and now the congressional level where decisions are made that affect us.”

She said voting is a way to step up help our people move ahead.

Then she added. “But I'm hoping and praying that they’re going to discover gold on the moon so all the white guys will leave.”

Claudia Kauffman, Nez Perce, was the first Native American woman to serve in the Washington state Senate. “I didn't have a large pool of Native voters in my district,” she said. But she told people “I'm a working mom, I care about children. We have values as Native people.”

Nathan Small, chairman of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes in Fort Hall, Idaho, spoke on behalf of Paulette Jordan. Jordan is the Democratic nominee for governor in Idaho and a citizen of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe.

Jordan has already done “some incredible things” in this campaign, Small said. She won the Democratic primary by campaigning against a multimillionaire who paid for an entire campaign by himself. She was able to do that with a grassroots campaign.

Yvette Joseph said she is Jordan’s cousin. “She comes from a long line of leaders from Chief Moses to Lucy Covington to George Freelander who was one of the first founders of Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians some 60 years ago,” said Joseph. “Paulette has that blood in her, in her genes, and in her background. She's really gonna prove, I think, that a Democrat can win in Idaho. And I'm just really excited for that.”

Deb Haaland speaking in Denver to people attending the National Congress of American Indians. (Photo by Mark Trahant)

Deb Haaland spoke last. “We have a job to do because it's our time. It's Native Americans time. It's our time to have representation. It's our time to have economic development. It's our time to have educational opportunities for every single child that we, that we know because we deserve to be a part of our country,” Haaland said. “We deserve to be part of the decisions that are made and we deserve to have our voices listened to, not just when it's convenient for people to listen, but when it's difficult for people to listen.”

She said that’s what her campaign is all about. “I can't speak for my tribe or anyone else's tribe, but I will really work hard to make sure that your voices are at the table,” she said. Tribes were shut out from a say about the most recent GOP tax plan for example. “They didn't let anybody talk about it. So I'm gonna. I'm gonna. That's one of my missions is to make sure that you have a voice in the future of our country because the stakes are really high this time around, right?”

A voice that's ready to make history.

Mark Trahant is editor of Indian Country Today. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Follow him on Twitter -@TrahantReports

Email: mtrahant@IndianCountryToday.com

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The National Congress of American Indians is the owner of Indian Country Today and manages its business operations. The Indian Country Today editorial team operates independently as a digital journalism enterprise.

Comments (1)
No. 1-1
Nimiipuu
Nimiipuu

Loved to read about my dear friends back at the National Congress of American Indians, supporting the Native women running in their respective States. I am proud of each and everyone of them. Let's keep in touch with the winner's, they are going to need our support. Native Women Power Lives On!!!