Indigenous women strive to be heard

By Jennifer Warner

New Mexico’s Democratic Rep. Deb Haaland. Photo courtesy of Haaland’s government website.

IllumiNative, And She Could Be Next, and the Native Organizers Alliance hosted a live online event Oct. 19 to celebrate the growing command of indigenous women in politics, and the power of the Native vote in November.

“I feel dedicated to leaving the ladder down for other women of color to climb,” said New Mexico’s Democratic Rep. Deb Haaland. “Because representation matters.”

Haaland is one of the first two Native American women to win a state party chair. According to the Native Organizers Alliance, she is also one of just 67 women of color to ever serve in Congress that has seen 11,000 chairpersons throughout history.

The event opened with a performance by folk singer and songwriter Raye Zaragoza. “This song is called ‘Fight Like A Girl’ and it is a song I wrote about just that,” Zaragoza said. “It’s a song about really stepping into our power as women of color and using that power to speak up and vote.”

Next, founder of She the People and event moderator Aimee Allison shared a scene from a short film directed by Navajo filmmaker Ramona Emerson following Rep. Deb Haaland’s historical 2018 election run in New Mexico. Allison then welcomed Haaland and Emerson to share the screen.

Haaland expressed her passion for her Native American communities as a 35th Generation New Mexican and an enrolled citizen of the Pueblo of Laguna. She spoke of her upbringing and her decision to run for Congress.

“I knew what it felt like to struggle and I knew what it felt like to sometimes not get where you want to be. I felt like I could help people with that aspect of their lives in raising people up as much as I could.”

rep. deb haaland

Emerson then spoke of the importance of Haaland running for Congress as a fellow Native woman and as a Native film director.

“It’s important to have someone that looks like you represent you and it’s something I hadn’t had before,” Emerson said. “Someone who understands what it’s like to live in New Mexico as a Native woman, who understands the problems that we face, and who could tackle them head on.”

According to Emerson, Native Americans have not just been deprived of political power; they also have not been able to control the narrative of their own stories through film and the media.

“The objectification of our image has been happening for a really long time,” Emerson said. “We see ourselves and our existence differently than someone who comes from the outside into our communities to tell our stories, and the only way we can change that is to tell the story ourselves.”

Later, Allison welcomed three additional leaders to the event to discuss Native American voting in the 2020 election. Founder of IllumiNative Crystal Echo Hawk was first to speak.

Hawk shared the results of the recently completed Indigenous Futures Survey. Done in partnership with several other Native organizations, it was the largest survey of Native peoples ever conducted.

“We had over 6,400 respondents representing 401 tribes from 50 states, and 75% of those respondents were women,” Hawk said.

According to Hawk, the survey found that 77% of Native people participated in the last election, contradicting the popular narrative that Native American’s don’t vote.

“Our Native people are energized,” Hawk said. “Our survey found that our electorate is 51% democratic and 26% independent, so that means don’t take our vote for granted.” Hawk then stated that one of the biggest takeaways from the survey is that respondents will vote for the candidate who has the best track record on Native issues.

According to the survey, the most important issues to Native people are that of mental health, protecting indigenous women from violence, and caring for their elders. “That is very present in the mind for Native American voters,” Hawk said.

Next, Director of the Native Organizers Alliance Judith LeBlanc shared how the survey findings influenced their work doing voter mobilization in Native communities.

“We found that we have very politically active and vibrant communities, especially in response to the murder of George Floyd,” LeBlanc said. “People are reacting and thinking about how systemic racism affects our peoples and they see the need to take action.”

LeBlanc stated that as a group, the Native Organizers Alliance has found that their people want to take the protests to the polls, making the Native vote a critical one. “Candidates need to take our electorate very seriously,” LeBlanc said.

Lastly, graduate student and activist Cordelia Falls Down explained how Native American youth can help in the final days before the election. She stressed the importance of utilizing social media to support existing Native American activist groups as a safe means to spread their messages.

Allison concluded the event with a reminder to be an informed voter. “Now is the time to
make your vote plan,” Allison said. “For more information, visit nativesvote2020.com.”

Contact Jennifer Warner at communitarian@mail.dccc.edu

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