History strikes again: A Native woman will help lead Minnesota

Mark Trahant

Arvina Martin comes up short in her primary challenge of the incumbent Wisconsin Secretary of State

Minnesota is certain to elect a Native American woman as its next lieutenant governor.

Then, the office of lieutenant governor has an interesting history.

In some countries, the lieutenant governor is the official representative of the sovereign (the king or queen). Some lieutenant governors are largely ceremonial. Some are private, close confidants to the governor. Others have actual jobs, with a portfolio of responsibilities. Five states -- Arizona, Maine, New Hampshire, Oregon, and Wyoming -- don’t even bother with post.

And in Minnesota the two party nominees for lieutenant governor are Native.

Republican Donna Bergstrom, Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians, and Democrat Peggy Flanagan, White Earth Nation, joined their running mates Tuesday and secured a line on the November ballot. Bergstrom is running with Jeff Johnson and Flanagan with Tim Walz.

Oh, what a year! Let’s put this in perspective. Two Native women are party nominees for Congress. (One more, Amanda Douglas, Cherokee, has a primary at the end of this month.) Deb Haaland, Laguna Pueblo, in New Mexico and Sharice Davids, Ho Chunk, in Kansas. Two Native women are party nominees for governor; Democrat Paulette Jordan, Coeur d’Alene, in Idaho and Republican Andria Tupola, Native Hawaiian, in Hawaii.

Four Native women are Lt. Gov. nominees, Debra Call, Dena’ina, in Alaska, Anastasia Pittman, Seminole, in Oklahoma and now two of them will face each other in November.

I could not make this up.

Not that this election is a perfect landscape for Native American women. Tuesday night Arvina Martin was defeated in her primary bid for Wisconsin Secretary of State. But, and this is important, she took on an incumbent. In a primary. Who would do that? Actually there is a history to that, too. Ada Deer once ran for Secretary of State in that same state. Make that twice. And Congress. Deer lost all of those races but had a successful political career serving as Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs at the Interior Department. The first woman to do so.

It’s easy to look at these names, these lists of names, and think, it’s a first. That these women are breaking ground. And that’s true because someone else did that first.

In that sense Tuesday night’s election was a preview of elections to come. What if it becomes routine for Native American women to be candidates on both sides of the ballot? What if there is an expectation that Native women campaign for offices to lead a state? What if tonight is the beginning of the new normal?

This will be a fun election to watch. Bergstrom has said how proud she is to be in a race with another Native woman for the same office.

Flanagan tweeted tonight: "Thank you, Minnesota. Together, Tim and I will hold the doors to power open. We will invite the people most impacted by decisions to be a part of those decisions. Let’s do this!"

At the victory rally, Flanagan acknowledged the historical nature of two Native American women competing for this office. "So Donna Bergstrom, here we go, sister."

Mark Trahant is editor of Indian Country Today. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Follow him on Twitter -@TrahantReports

Email: mtrahant@IndianCountryToday.com