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Pauly Denetclaw
ICT

Historically, Indigenous communities have always cultivated a field of young leaders who would eventually take over roles in their families, local areas, or their broader communities. Today, that can still be seen. There are over 10,000 leaders elected to their tribal governments across the country.

“Leadership is not something that is a mystery to our community,” said Jordan James Harvill, national program director for Advanced Native Political Leadership. “Our folks have been leading for generations. And in fact, they lead in a lot of different capacities, whether it be our matriarchs in our family and community, or it be our tribal leadership.”

The wave of Indigenous candidates running for local, state, and national office has dramatically increased. The new American majority in 2016 set the stage for the most diverse class of Congressional members to be elected in 2018. This was the year that Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, Laguna Pueblo, and U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids, Ho-Chunk, made history and were elected. Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt, Cherokee, also became governor of Oklahoma that year. Minnesota Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, White Earth Nation, became the first Indigenous person to hold that office.

“I think it matters that we see ourselves in this process,” Harvill said. “After that election, everyone thought that they could do it and that's because they can.”

In 2020, a historical number of Indigenous candidates ran and were elected for local, state and national offices. For the first time, six Indigenous people were elected to Congress. The 2022 midterm election is looking to build upon that momentum.

“In 2022, for one house seat in Alaska, we have four different Native candidates running, highly qualified Native candidates running for those seats,” Harvill said, referring to the June 11 special election for the late Rep. Don Young’s seat.

(Related: Don Young's legacy in Indian Country and beyond)

ICT has compiled a master list of Indigenous candidates running for local, state, and national offices in the midterm election. This is not a complete list but so far there are 96 Indigenous candidates who declared they were running for state and national offices. This number includes those who withdrew and those who did not win their primary election.

ICT encourages candidates and voters to send an email to political correspondent Pauly Denetclaw, at pauly@ictnews.org to add the names of any candidates we may have missed. ICT is looking to add more candidates to the “Local City and County” tab. There is also a tab for candidates who withdrew. This will be used later to determine hurdles that candidates may be experiencing as they run for office.

Overview of the 2022 midterm elections

It’s not just the Alaska election that is boasting Indigenous candidates. Arizona, which has shockingly never elected an Indigenous person to Congress, had two Navajo Nation citizens running for Congressional seats. Ultimately, both were forced to withdraw from the race because they did not meet the signature requirement. Ginger Sykes Torres described the decision as agonizing. The other was current Navajo Nation vice-president Myron Lizer.

In North Carolina, state Rep. Charles Graham will head to the general election against incumbent U.S. Rep. David Rouzer for the congressional district 7 seat. He wasn’t the only Indigenous candidate, Crystal Cavalier also ran in a stacked congressional district 4. She will be running again in 2024.

Rep. Charles Graham of Robeson County, speaks against HB 324 during debate on the the House floor on Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2021 in Raleigh, N.C. The bill passed by a 60-41 vote and be will sent to Governor Roy Cooper. If signed into law it will establish new rules on how schools can teach about racism. (Robert Willett/The News & Observer via AP)

California, Montana, South Dakota, and New Mexico each have one congressional candidate running for the U.S. House.

Montana has the second-highest number of Indigenous candidates running for state office in the country, after Oklahoma.

In Oklahoma, six Indigenous candidates are running for the U.S. Senate, U.S. House, or Governor’s office. Governor Kevin Stitt, Cherokee, is running for reelection. U.S. Rep. Markwayne Mullin, Cherokee, and former Oklahoma state lawmaker, T.W. Shannon, Chickasaw, are running for the Senate. Guy Barker, Quapaw and Osage, and Wes Nofire, Cherokee, are running for Mullin’s open seat in the 2nd congressional district. U.S. Rep. Tom Cole is running for reelection in the 4th congressional district. Oklahoma’s primary is June 24.

The primary for California, Montana, South Dakota, and New Mexico was June 7. 

On June 14, Mercedes Krouse will be running for the Democratic nomination for congressional district 2 in Nevada.

“It's the district with the highest density of tribal nations in Nevada, in that particular district. It's why she chose to run there,” Harvill said. “Regardless of the election outcomes, what she really wanted to do was pull in all of the tribes in this process. What does it look like to build political participation within the tribes?”

This isn’t the only race Harvill is watching.

Due to Kansas redistricting, Davids is competing in a more conservative district. In previous elections, her district leaned more democratic. Now, Harvill described it as a toss-up district.

“It's losing a pillar in the community that people are looking to as an example of what it means to be in these seats,” he said. “I feel like this race has so many more implications than just having a vote in Congress. It means that for generations of Native folks, for the very first time, they're seeing people like her. LGBT Native kids, Two-Spirit Native kids are seeing Congresswoman Davids and they're realizing that it's also possible.”

The other innovative race is coming out of Phoenix for the Phoenix Union High School District Ward 4, where Ceyshe Napa, Diné, is running. She is another Advanced Native Political Leadership candidate.

Indigenous people running at the local level are generally more difficult to track. But in San Juan and McKinley counties in New Mexico, 21 Indigenous people are running for everything from county assessor to district judge.

“Everyone has a place in this movement, and when you run for office, you are just one piece of it. A very critical piece, but you are just one piece of this power ecosystem,” Harvill said.

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ICT is gathering a database of Native candidates running for public office in 2022 from Congress to school boards, and everywhere in between. Email ICT Political Correspondent Pauly Denetclaw at pauly@ictnews.org to add a candidate to the list.

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