Aliyah Chavez
Indian Country Today

For many Indigenous lawmakers, January brought the opportunity to be sworn into office.

Across various Capitol buildings (and of course in some living rooms through video conferencing), Indigenous officials took an oath of office, promising to do their job to the best of their ability – and many chose to do so while wearing traditional clothing.

The history-making coalition of Indigenous lawmakers in Kansas did just that.

“Wearing my traditional regalia was a no-brainer for me. The only issue was what color,” said Kansas state Rep. Christina Haswood, Diné.

Haswood, 26, was sworn into office Tuesday at the State Capitol in Topeka, officially making her Kansas' youngest sitting legislator.

She even coordinated outfit colors with fellow Native legislator Rep. Ponka-We Victors, Tohono O’odham and Ponca. Together, the duo chose to wear red to symbolize the missing and murdered Indigenous women crisis.

Also sworn in was Kansas state Rep. Stephanie Byers, Chickasaw, who is the state’s first transgender lawmaker. Byers has previously noted the historic nature of her election but added she wants to be known for more than this.

“Because for me, being trans is just one more identifier of who I am, no more than the fact that I’m Native American, I've got two sons, or the fact that my eyes are brown," Byers said in a November interview with them, an online news company covering the LGBTQ community.

This makes three Native women currently serving in the Kansas Legislature.

In 2020, a total of 72 Indigenous candidates were elected to office. More than 100 ran for various positions, including U.S. Congress, state legislatures and city councils.

In South Dakota, two Native candidates were sworn into the state’s Legislature Tuesday: Sens. Red Dawn Foster, Oglala Lakota, and Troy Heinert, Rosebud Sioux.

“Wopila Tanka for representing the Oyate,” Remi Bald Eagle posted on Facebook. “Swearing in ceremony for the 96th Legislative Session!”

In Minnesota, state Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn, a descendent of Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, was sworn in for her third term. She wore a ribbon skirt and moccasins during her Zoom swearing-in event.

“I am up for the challenge of continuing to legislate during this pandemic and even made history today as one of the first nine Representatives to be sworn in via Zoom,” Becker-Finn wrote on social media.

Wyoming state Rep. Andi Clifford, Northern Arapaho, was sworn into her second term last week. She is one of only two Native legislators in Wyoming. The other is state Sen. Affie Ellis, Diné.

“I will respect the oath I took today and will never take it for granted,” Clifford said.

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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 achavez@indiancountrytoday.com.

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