Indian Country politics and public policy

Commentary by Mark Trahant

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Washington legislative candidate Sharlaine LaClair was recently featured on the cover of a national story from Refinery29: “35 Women Running For Office you should know about!” (Campaign photo)

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

There is no question in my mind that gender is on the ballot this election.

Hillary Clinton would be the first woman ever elected in U.S. history. While the Republican nominee for president finds new ways to show his contempt for women almost every time he opens his mouth. And that, I believe, will determine the result.

When you look the Native American candidates running for all offices across the country, it’s clear that women are making history. This will be a break-through year.

Denise Juneau, as NBC News pointed out Saturday, would be the first Native American woman ever elected to Congress. (From the state that elected the first woman to Congress.)

Juneau is the only Native American woman running for Congress but if you look back at the history of women who have tried, the list is significant. Just a few: Jeanne Givens in Idaho, Ada Deer in Wisconsin, Kalyn Free in Oklahoma, and Wenona Benally and Mary Kim Titla in Arizona’s First Congressional District. (The district with the highest percentage of Native voters.) You could add to that list two vice presidential nominees, Winona LaDuke and LaDonna Harris. Or the two Native American women running statewide in North Dakota, Marlo Hunte-Beaubrun and Ruth Buffalo.

Indeed, more than 37 percent of all the Native American candidates running this election are female.  In Minnesota six of the seven candidates running for the Legislature are women. And three of the four Native candidates in Arizona.

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Of course that number is not half, so there remains a long ways to go. But a little perspective from the data. Nationally women make up about 20 percent of Congress both in the House and in the Senate. And in state legislatures women make up 24.6 percent of those bodies, a percentage that Native American candidates could exceed.

And it’s not just the numbers: It’s the resumes, it’s the talent.

Jamescita Peshlakai (who is running unopposed in Arizona for the state senate) is Navajo and a Persian Gulf War  veteran who served in the U.S. Army for eight years. She used the G.I. Bill to get her college education, eventually earning a master’s degree in history and educational psychology. She already has legislative experience, serving in the Arizona House.

On the same ballot in the same district, Benally is running again this time for the legislature and unopposed). “I am a Harvard Law School graduate. I also earned a master’s degree in Public Policy from the John F. Kennedy School of Government and a Master’s of Law from the James E. Rogers College of Law,” Benally wrote on her Facebook page. She recently told the story about a meeting with Bernie Sanders. She wrote:”I thanked him for inspiring a new generation of young leaders – like me – who have picked up the torch and are seeking change at the local level. His response: ‘No, thank you!'”

This story of talent is repeated from coast to coast. It’s Tawna Sanchez in Oregon. It’s Laurel Deegan-Fricke in North Carolina. And it’s Red Dawn Foster in South Dakota. (The complete list is here.)

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Washington legislative candidate Sharlaine LaClair was recently featured on the cover of a national story from Refinery29: “35 Women Running For Office you should know about!”

The slide show included her picture and said: “Why you should know her: LaClair, a member of the Lummi Nation, would be one of four Native Americans in the Washington Legislature if elected.” Featured in that same slide show is Denise JuneauTulsi GabbardKamala Harris, and Paula Hawks. Cool company.

I can’t imagine a more difficult year for women to run or, more important, raise critical issues. Donald Trump has sunk the national discourse, especially on issues of gender, to a new low. A poll last week by Pew Research found “substantial differences in the level of respect voters think Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have for different groups in American society, and some of the widest gaps are on women, blacks and Hispanics.”

Native Americans were not included in the Pew poll, but, I would argue we would show a similar gap. In Alaska, for example, Republican Rep. Charisse Millett, Inupiaq, wrote “Donald Trump’s character has been proven beyond question to be that of a bully, misogynist, and a sexual aggressor. His comments released recently are simply further proof that he is no leader – he is part of the problem.”

As I said: There is no question in my mind that gender is on this year’s ballot.

Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports

Reposting or reprinting this column? Please credit: Mark Trahant / TrahantReports.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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