In the interview series Meet Native America, the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian invites tribal leaders, cultural figures, and other interesting and accomplished Native individuals to introduce themselves and say a little about their lives and work. Together, their responses illustrate the diversity of the indigenous communities of the Western Hemisphere, as well as their shared concerns, and offer insights beyond what’s in the news to the ideas and experiences of Native peoples today.
Please introduce yourself with your name and title.
My name is Paulette Jordan. I am a newly-elected Idaho House Representative.
What tribes are you affiliated with?
I am an enrolled citizen of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe. I am also of Sinkiuse (known as the Moses–Columbia Band of the Colville Confederacy), Nez Perce, and Yakama–Palus descent.
What is a significant point in history from one of your tribes that you would like to share?
There are many significant points of our Plateau history where our people have faced multiple battles and wars, forced assimilation, attacks to destroy and terminate our people, and dissolution of both our land base and sovereign authority.
One particular point in history I am very proud of, and it is important to mention, is the way our leaders of both the Coast Salish and Interior Salish of the Northwest have banded together in solidarity to preserve tribal sovereignty by holding the U.S. government accountable to honor its obligation through both treaty and executive order agreements and prevent termination of such agreements.
Due to the Dawes Act of 1887, tribal lands were allotted to individuals and the power struggle continued as millions of acres of land with valuable resources were opened up for settlement. This policy was also intended to terminate reservation lands and any compensation to those seeking settlement. After the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 reversed the policy of dissolution of reservation lands, tribes still struggled with the loss of the vast majority of their treaty lands and later faced termination. It was during this struggle that our people of the Northwest gathered together and combined forces to build one unified voice to provide national and regional leadership and advocate for common interests by organizing the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians in 1953. These developments spawned relief and support by sharing resources and common interests to counter termination efforts by federal agents, as well as secure rights and benefits of tribal peoples regionally and nationally.
Combining voices led to many more protections and gains that continue to improve Indian country by protecting and enhancing sovereign rights and strategically building upon economic opportunities.
How is your state government set up?
The constitution of Idaho provides for three branches of government: the executive, legislative and judicial branches. Idaho has a bicameral State Legislature, having both a House and Senate body of elected officials. Idaho has 35 state legislative districts—hence 35 State Senate seats and 70 House of Representatives seats. Terms for both the Senate and House of Representatives are two years. Since the late 1950s, the Idaho Legislature has been controlled by the Republican Party, and there are no term limits.
How are leaders chosen?
Leaders are chosen amongst each party caucus after being sworn in to office.
Are Democrats or Republicans more dominant in your state?
The Republican Party controls both the Idaho House and Senate with a supermajority. Currently the House is composed of 14 Democrats and 56 Republicans; the Democrats gained one seat in the 2014 election. There was no change to the composition of the Senate chamber as the Republican Party maintained their 28 seats to the Democrats 7 seats.
Do legislators vote along party lines?
Most often officials vote along party lines, though not always. It is best, however, if both parties can come together in a bipartisan manner to pass legislation that will positively impact all of Idaho’s people.
Are there any other Natives who are elected leaders in your state?
Unfortunately, there are no other tribal people elected to a state seat—yet!
To read the full interview, visit the NMAI series here.