Indian Country Today
The 117th U.S. Congress is officially on the clock, and it includes a record number of Indigenous members, among them the first Native Republican woman.
Republican Rep. Yvette Herrell, Cherokee, of New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District, and Democratic Rep. Kaiali’i “Kai” Kahele, a Native Hawaiian representing Hawaii’s 2nd District, were sworn in Sunday at the U.S. Capitol. They were joined by Reps. Sharice Davids, Ho-Chunk, Deb Haaland, Laguna and Jemez Pueblos, Tom Cole, Chickasaw, and Markwayne Mullin, Cherokee.
Democrats Haaland, of New Mexico’s 1st District, and Davids, of Kansas’ 3rd District, are serving a second term after being the first two Native women elected to Congress in 2018.
Cole is the senior Native member of Congress and has served Oklahoma’s 4th District since 2003. Mullin is serving his fifth term in Oklahoma’s 2nd District. Cole and Mullin are Republican.
Mullin and Herrell have said they will join other Republican lawmakers in objecting to the Electoral College certification of President-elect Joe Biden's victory by Congress on Wednesday.
Mullin told Indian Country Today on Monday there are many discrepancies in how votes were cast in various states, which is why he won’t support certifying the Electoral College votes.
“Just today, for instance, I swore an oath to uphold the Constitution, and we're simply following that,” Mullin said.
Herrell, meanwhile, penned a blog post describing “historic” irregularities in the 2020 election.
It’s unclear the extent to which GOP leaders in Congress will be able to control Wednesday’s joint session, which could drag into the night though the challenges to the election are all but certain to fail. Many current and former party officials have warned the effort is undermining Americans’ faith in democracy.
"In my view, the election's over," Cole told Fox25 in Oklahoma City last month. "While the election didn't turn out the way I want at the presidential level, I respect the will of the American people."
Celebrating taking office
The House of Representatives includes 222 Democrats, 211 Republicans and two vacancies. With COVID-19 protocols in place, members of the new Congress were able to celebrate in their own way, and many took to social media to share the moment.
“I am humbled and honored to have been sworn in today to serve the people of New Mexico in the 117th Congress!” Herrell posted on Twitter.
On her new Facebook page, Herrell posted a short video on Sunday of seeing in her new office for the first time. “This is New Mexico’s office. I’m just thankful for being here and being a part of it,” she said.
Kahele is only the second Native Hawaiian in Congress since statehood. The late Sen. Daniel Akaka, Kahele’s mentor, was the first.
Kahele documented his swearing-in on social media, and he started quickly. A minute after midnight, Kahele posted Sunday on Twitter that he was too excited to sleep.
“Today, this public school educated, Native Hawaiian son of Hawai’i, will become a United States Congressman,” he said in a Twitter post. “Mahalo nui loa to everyone who made this day possible!”
When he was sworn in, Kahele held Akaka’s bible in his left hand.
(Related: US House candidates make history)
Davids posted a selfie Sunday outside her office and next to her name plate on the wall.
“Back in D.C. and ready to be sworn into the 117th Congress. Let's do this,” she said.
Haaland posted her iconic photo from 2018 where she hugged Davids on the House floor in an emotional moment that captured its historic significance. She also posted a 2021 version of the two hugging with the popular social media description, “How it started (2018), how it’s going (2021).”
Sunday’s swearing-in at Congress could be Haaland’s last, at least for a while. Haaland is Biden’s nominee for Interior secretary and would become the first Native to ever serve as a Cabinet secretary if confirmed by the Senate.
Haaland is already wearing both hats. She met virtually with tribal leaders in late December as the Interior secretary-designate. It’s unclear when her confirmation will take place, and she can remain in Congress until she’s confirmed.
Dalton Walker, Red Lake Anishinaabe, is a national correspondent at Indian Country Today. Follow him on Twitter: @daltonwalker Walker is based in Phoenix and enjoys Arizona winters.
Indian Country Today reporter-producer Aliyah Chavez, Kewa Pueblo, and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Indian Country Today is a nonprofit news organization. Will you support our work? All of our content is free. There are no subscriptions or costs. And we have hired more Native journalists in the past year than any news organization ─ and with your help we will continue to grow and create career paths for our people. Support Indian Country Today for as little as $10.