Democratic Lt. Governor Candidate Debra Haaland has just become the first Native American on a New Mexico gubernatorial ticket in the state’s history. Having secured several high profile endorsements early in her run, she will be running unopposed in the June Democratic primary.
Haaland, a member of the Pueblo of Laguna that serves as a Tribal Administrator at the Pueblo of San Felipe is a longtime Democratic organizer having worked successfully on President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign.
Additionally, she is the first female Chair of the Laguna Development Corporation (LDC) Board of Directors and was appointed by the Laguna Tribal Council. The LDC is the second largest gaming enterprise in the State of New Mexico.
In an interview with ICTMN, Haaland took some time to share her thoughts about her achievements and how she has achieved such success as a single mom who has a daughter now in college.
What is your response to securing the democratic nomination for lieutenant governor of New Mexico?
We are really excited about it. We started out with a really high-profile endorsement which may have helped to discourage other people that were thinking about jumping into the race. I am the first Native American on the statewide gubernatorial ticket. I am now running unopposed – our one opposition did not qualify.
I have a very experienced team and this will be our third election together. It was kind of a quiet celebration. We were texting back and forth. I think my campaign manager Scottie Tillman was more excited than I was. It is always nice to be the first at something right?
As you said, you are the first Native American on a gubernatorial ticket – why has it taken this long?
I have worked with tribes for a long time so I understand how their governments work and I know a lot of tribal leaders. This is just my theory but I think one of the reasons why we have not had a Native American on the statewide gubernatorial ticket is because a lot of men have a lot of obligations at their respective communities.
I think that has something to do with people being available. I am not married and I have one daughter who is in college, so I felt like I had the time as well. I know how to work hard.
What type of work have you done for the Pueblo of San Felipe?
I am a tribal administrator so I run all of the consolidated federal programs. There are two administrators there so between us we also manage all of the political things for the administration. It is a lot of political, legislative and intergovernmental relationship work between the federal and state governments for the tribe. I love it though I love working with Indian people.
How does it feel to serve as a role model for Native women in Indian country?
It is 2014 and women are doing more and I always encourage young people to get their educations and step outside of their comfort zones and do something that they feel will have an impact on people's lives. My thing is that I really love helping people. This is my first run for office I have never run for a political office before in my life. I hope I can be a role model to young kids.
I am an enrolled Laguna Pueblo and we have two types of government Traditional and the IRA (Indian Reorganization Tribe) Government. We elect certain tribal leaders, some formal some not. `Women were not allowed to run for leadership at my Pueblo until 1997. Some offices are now open for women candidates.
Just because women are not often nominated at Laguna it doesn't mean that we don't have the desire to serve our people. When you feel that you have a desire for service and want to make a difference in people’s lives and do something good for my community, you find a way to do it. That is why I decided to run.
What is your formula for success as a Native woman?
I didn't start college until I was 28 years old. I always encourage young people to go to college and to work somewhere outside of your community and then come back and help your own people. For a lot of Native people that are growing up in their respective communities, I think that is somewhere you cannot go wrong.
People working in departments where I work they will eventually retire. We will always need younger folks to go into these fields. It would be great to see these fields filled with bright young educated people that know their communities and can do some good.
Since a lot of tribal positions are held by men do you feel any sort of traditional conflict running for Lieutenant Governor?
I am not married so that probably alleviates a lot of issues. If I was married to someone who was very traditional, I would have other responsibilities and obligations. I do have several traditional relationships such as godchildren and I make sure I tend to those traditions and I meet my obligations to my mother and family.
In the Pueblo way, it is mostly the males who hold these obligations.
What is the premise of your campaign?
I worked for President Obama's Reelection campaign – we got out the vote extremely well in Indian country. I was trained by the best. We are using a lot of what we learned in that campaign. My campaign manager Scott Tillman also worked for the president's reelection campaign. We are very big on social media. And we hope to reach young people this way.
We want to talk to every voter in New Mexico as we possibly can and we certainly want to engage specific groups such as young people.
Will we see you as the governor of New Mexico someday?
(Laughs) That is far in the future of course and I would not have joined this race if I didn't think we could win this election. I am positive we will win. When we do win, then there is always a chance of winning reelection. I foresee doing such a great job the people of New Mexico will want to reelect us. My governor's blood is probably eight years in the future...That is a little far for me to think about.
I do plan on being the next lieutenant governor of New Mexico.