Indigenous Women: Nations, Cultures, Voices

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Two Native Women Political Candidates

Two Native American women leaders are currently on the cusp of being major "Firsts" in American Congressional and Gubernatorial races--exciting!


b2ap3_thumbnail_longform-original-18304-1524672349-3.jpgPaulette Jordan (Coeur D'Alene nation) is running for Governor of the State of Idaho. She won in the primaries this past week and will be on the ballot running as a Democrat this fall. Jordan began her career in politics in 2009 when her grandfather went to the nation's Tribal Council and told them: “This young woman is the future of our people.” Jordan won a seat on the Coeur D'Alene Tribal Council when she was in her twenties and gradually became recognized in the state outside the Council as an up-and-coming leader. In 2014 Jordan was elected to the Idaho state legislature. Anne Helen Peterson writes in BuzzFeed that "When Jordan ran for reelection in 2016, she was the only Democrat north of Boise to survive the Republican wave that carried Trump to the White House."

Idaho State Representative Jordan told Peterson that “I was raised by elders who told me to only speak of love... Imagine elders who were always displaced and hurt and criminalized just for being who they are. They looked to spirituality, and religion, and prayer, and faithfulness to keep them alive on a daily basis...". What Ms. Jordan is describing is the traditional values of Indigenous peoples that are time honored and have survived colonization.

If Jordan wins in November, she will be the first Native American woman in the history of the United States to be a Governor.


b2ap3_thumbnail_00nativewomen1-jumbo-v2.jpgDeb Haaland of the Laguna Pueblo nation is running for Congress in the state of New Mexico.   The New York Times writes that, "She entered politics in 2008 as a volunteer for Barack Obama, then spent years crisscrossing the state to register native voters in some of the country’s most remote corners. In 2015, she became the head of the state Democratic Party and helped to flip the New Mexico House of Representatives back to Democratic control." Ms. Haaland started a salsa company and worked as a cake decorator as she put herself through college and then law school, primarily "on a mix of food stamps and student loans."

If she wins this November, Deb Haaland will be the first Native American woman in Congress, following several Native Congressmen, like former Congressman Clem McSpadden (Cherokee) of Oklahoma and former Congressman Ben Campbell (Northern Cheyenne) of Colorado, to name but a few. Currently, Congressman Tom Cole (Chickasaw) of Oklahoma and Congressman Markwayne Mullen (Cherokee) of Oklahoma are serving in the U.S. Congress.

Though readers of this blog are already fully aware of the historic facts about Native American women leaders, I'll say it again for this who may have missed it: Native American women have ALWAYS been leaders in their nations before the European colonizers arrived. Though the nations differed in their expression of those leadership roles, the gynocratic (matrifocal/matrilineal) nations--like the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois), Pueblo nations, Navajo, Cherokee, etc--centralized women overall and thus they held primary leadership roles. So the fact that Native American women may be holding these offices if they win this fall is certainly new to the U.S. government, but Native women as leaders is nothing new on Turtle Island at all....just a continuation of the history of leadership that has been here since time immemorial.


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Dr. Mays is a professional writer with a doctoral degree in Native American Studies who has taught at the college level for nearly two decades. She is committed to educating about Indigenous cultures, especially about practices that specifically relate to women, in order to raise awareness about current issues in Indian Country, dissolve stereotypes, and create healing among all communities.


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