Paulette Jordan’s historic Senate bid

Paulette Jordan, Coeur d’Alene, at the National Congress of American Indians Executive Council Winter Session in Washington, D.C., on February 2020. (Photo by Jourdan Bennett-Begaye, Indian Country Today)

Election 2020

Jordan would be first Native woman elected to United States Senate #NativeVote20

Kolby KickingWoman
Indian Country Today

Paulette Jordan, Coeur d’Alene, learned a number of life lessons growing up on a farm in rural northern Idaho on the Coeur d’Alene Reservation.

These lessons include accountability and respect, not only for the land but for other people, elders above all else.

“At the end of the day, all you have is your character and your word,” she said. “So it's very important that you are sincere in your actions and sincere in what you say.”

From a young age, along with her brothers, cousins and uncles, Jordan was big into the outdoors lifestyle. She loved to ride horses in the countryside and learned traditional ways of subsistence hunting and fishing.

“We definitely had a unique upbringing with heritage,” Jordan said. “That's very familiar to a lot of people in Idaho.”

To this day, it’s an activity she enjoys to take part in, especially with her sons.

Jordan didn’t travel too far for college, staying in the Pacific Northwest and attending the University of Washington. During her time in Seattle, Jordan grew her leadership skills, working with tribes in the surrounding area.

Over the years, Jordan’s trajectory has continually shot upward. She has gone from the youngest person elected to the tribe’s tribal council to the Idaho state legislature to an unsuccessful bid for governor and now looking to become the first Native woman elected to the U.S. Senate.

Then that is not an unusual story in the Coeur d’Alene Tribe. Former chairman and National Congress of American Indians President Joe Garry ran for the U.S. Senate in 1960. And Jeanne Givens was the first Native American woman to run for Congress in 1988.

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Jordan says it was her grandfather who made the original pitch for her to return home and enter the political arena. Although, she admits that at the heart of it all, she was a little homesick as well.

“Of course my family wanted me to go off and travel the world and be more involved at the national level,” Jordan said. “But my heart just pulled at me to go home and I listened to my elders and just started hitting the ground running there.”

It was also her grandfather who pushed her beyond tribal politics. When Jordan was approached about running for the Idaho state legislature, she said her grandfather told her she had to run to be the “one good apple amongst all the bad.”

“It actually took my grandfather to say that you have to run to represent all people. You can do more at that level than you can on the tribal council and therefore you should run and you would not only make all of us proud, but this country deserves to hear your voice,” Jordan recalls her grandfather saying. “We're all speaking through you. So it's, it's your responsibility to do this.”

Now, she is in the biggest race of her political career, taking on Republican incumbent Sen. Jim Risch. The main issue Jordan is running on is healthcare, saying the coronavirus doesn’t discriminate in who it infects and is so broad reaching.

Certainly, the hyper-partisanship in the nation’s capital isn’t helping. Citing what she called a “Republican talking point,” Jordan said Risch and other members of the Republican party say they support pre-existing conditions but at the same time are working to dismantle and take away people’s access to healthcare.

“So healthcare is by far and foremost, the number one issue,” Jordan said. “Everyone from those in Indian Country and beyond should be worried about this, and what's going to happen if we don't flip the Senate, come November 3rd.”

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Another area where the pandemic doesn’t discriminate is the campaign trail. Candidates across the political spectrum have had to adapt to the current state of affairs.

While it has presented a number of challenges, Jordan says it forces people to be more creative and to think outside of the box. She added that it also opened doors for more people to enter spaces they haven’t been before.

For instance, Jordan serves as the vice chair of the Democratic National Committee’s Native American Caucus and in years past at national conventions, she said there would be roughly 30 to 50 people in the room.

“This year we saw well over 10,000 people per meeting, and that's remarkable, but also really what we want to see,” Jordan said. “We want to see national engagement and people who, you know, young and old and all walks of life, being able to participate in conversations about indigenous issues that are important to us.”

As mentioned earlier, if elected, Jordan would be the first Native woman to serve in the Senate and that definitely isn’t lost on her. She said it would mean a lot to fill that role but that ultimately, it’s about more than her.

It’s about the next generation of kids who will be “far better leaders than us.”

“It's our responsibility to pass off everything we know and make sure that they get to these places. Once we've accomplished that level, it's just breaking that barrier. That's an invisible barrier, but you know, it's nothing that we should be afraid of,” Jordan said. “It isn't a fear in my mind and I just want our kids to know that it's their place too. So that's really what this is all about.”

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Kolby KickingWoman, Blackfeet/A'aniih is a reporter/producer for Indian Country Today. He is from the great state of Montana and currently reports for the Washington Bureau. For hot sports takes and too many Lakers tweets, follow him on Twitter - @KDKW_406. Email - kkickingwoman@indiancountrytoday.com

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