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Aliyah Chavez
Indian Country Today

In a time of heavy and worrisome news, 2020 presented a unique year for Indigenous people seeking public office.

A record number of Indigenous candidates entered the year campaigning for offices at all levels of government, including Congress, state legislatures and city councils.

November came, and voters headed to the polls and watched the results roll in on Indian Country Today’s live election night broadcast.

In all, 114 Indigenous candidates ran for public office, with 72 of those candidates successfully elected. Of the total candidates, 67 were women. That’s more than half!

After Election Day, Indigenous representation in Congress went from four elected officials, to six. Another first.

December hit, and the most notable political event of the year happened: Rep. Deb Haaland of New Mexico was chosen as President-elect Joe Biden’s Interior secretary nominee. A monumental selection.

— Indian Country year in review: Major moments
— Indian Country Today’s top 20 stories of 2020

If confirmed by the Senate, Haaland will make history as the first Native American to serve as a Cabinet secretary. She would also be the third woman to lead the Interior Department.

Her selection, however, means Indigenous representation in Congress will decrease to five in 2021. Still the most in history.

Up and down the ballot, Indigenous candidates campaigned on themes of protecting the environment, ensuring proper care for communities that were devastatingly impacted by the coronavirus, and (finally) addressing the missing and murdered Indigenous women crisis.

Here’s a look back at the Indigenous candidates who made a splash:

Secretary of Interior nominee Deb Haaland, Laguna and Jemez Pueblos:

Hawaii U.S. Rep.-elect Kai Kahele, Kanaka Maoli:

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New Mexico U.S. Rep-elect Yvette Herrell, Cherokee:

Kansas state Rep.-elect Stephanie Byers, Chickasaw:

Kansas state Rep.-elect Christina Haswood, Diné:

Tempe City Council member Doreen Garlid, Diné:

Pima County Recorder-elect Gabriella Cazares-Kelly, Tohono O'odham:

Various congressional hopefuls:

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Aliyah Chavez, Kewa Pueblo, is a reporter-producer at Indian Country Today. Follow her on Twitter: @aliyahjchavez or email her at

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