Politics is not always fun … but it can be historic

Peggy Flanagan, White Earth Nation, places her hand on an 1854 Bible written in the Objiwe language, a Bible provided by the Minnesota Historical Society, as she gets sworn into office by Associate Justice Anne McKeig, White Earth Nation, as the lieutenant governor of Minnesota on January 7, 2018 at The Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul. (Photo by Jourdan Bennett-Begaye)

Jourdan Bennett-Begaye

One more first in this historic election year for Native Americans

At the Democratic National Convention in 2016, Peggy Flanagan wrote a letter to her then 3-year-old daughter. It wasn’t about her wedding day or any romance topic a Nicholas-Sparks film would include. Flanagan talked about working in politics and her daughter’s identity as a young Anishaabekwe, or Objiwe woman.

“Politics is not always fun. Sometimes you run into some pretty mean people who don’t like you for simply being you. Like that naughty guy Donald trump on TV. The one who says all those nasty things about women. And about Native Americans like us. I’m so sorry you have to hear that, my girl, your name is not Pocahontas,” she said. “Despite everything that’s happened to our people, and no matter what Donald trump said, we are still here.”

“I can’t stop being Ojibwe. That is the lens I see the world through, that lens. That perspective is what I try to bring in work,” said Flanagan over the phone on her way to the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul.

In November, Flanagan competed against Donna Bergstrom, Red Lake Nation. It was the only time in history that two Native Americans ran against each other for a high-ranking statewide position.

Today, Flanagan again made history. She is the state of Minnesota’s first Native American woman as lieutenant governor, including the “highest-ranking Native woman elected to executive office in the country.”

That’s a lot of firsts. Especially alongside of Rep. Deb Haaland of New Mexico and Rep. Sharice Davids of Kansas. All of whom were raised by a single mom. And all have been open about sharing their experiences growing up.

During Flanagan’s campaigned and once elected, she openly talked about being a single mom, being raised by a single mother and told constituents that she understands the community more than anyone. She grew up as the kid with a different colored lunch ticket for a free and reduced-priced lunch. Housing programs gave her and her mom a chance to change their own lives. It gave her mother the chance to go to school and get their family out of poverty.

“I certainly am here because of the strength of my mom. She will be with me today,” Flanagan said. “She worked really hard to make sure we can get ahead.”

The lieutenant governor wants to provide those types of opportunities and more for Minnesotans.

Peggy Flanagan with her 5-year-old daughter Siobhan Ma’iingan. Ma'iingan means wolf in Ojibwe. (Twitter)

Of course, her priority is always her daughter Siobhan Ma’iingan, Ma’iingan means wolf in Ojibwe.

“I’ve done a lot to be present with my daughter. I want her to know that she is my top priority and mommy has a job for the community too,” Flanagan said.

In between Flanagan’s #OneMinnesota tweets and photos with political figures are candid images of her and her now 5-year-old daughter. Between advisory board meetings and meeting with the community last month, the single mom made time to take her daughter to the Beauty and the Beast orchestra performance and Minnesota Zoo.

Siobhan Ma’iingan has rode this legislative journey with mom since Flanagan served in the Minnesota House of Representatives since 2015.

Flanagan captured this photo and captioned it as Governor-elect Walz meeting with "top strategists." (Twitter)

“She comes to the Capitol with me a lot and sits on the house floor along with me. She thought for a long time she thought mommy worked in a castle and people gave me candy all day,” Flanagan said with a laugh.

Two days ago they talked about mommy’s new job.

“She didn’t understand what a big deal it is. I said mommy is the first Native American person to be elected to represent the state of Minnesota. She goes, ‘Why didn’t you tell me that mom?’ It’s just her normal. There’s a real beauty in that,” she said.

She also just thought it was normal for Native women leaders to be working together. While Flanagan worked in the house, she and three other Native women – Susan Allen, Rosebud Sioux, Jamie Becker Finn and Mary Kunesh-Podein – formed the American Indian Caucus in the state of Minnesota. (Allen was the first Native woman elected to legislature in the state and is now retired, according to Flanagan.)

With all that Native women leadership to the 5-year-old, mommy and her friends working together was “just her normal.”

“Native American women are leaders. I want her and other young girls of color and young Indigenous girls to know that this is normal,” she said. “Bring crayons and coloring books. But the beauty of her being on this journey with me and she learns to build relationships with kids her age and adults and that helps with forming her own identity and she is valuable and has something to say.”

One of the goals of the social-media savvy mom is to expand her role as lieutenant governor. Right now the role calls for the lieutenant governor to assist the governor in any duties assigned and to step in as the place of the governor when needed – as well as seven other duties.

Right after she spoke with Governor-elect Tim Walz about running with him, she immediately called Tina Smith, senator of Minnesota, as she held the lieutenant governor position from 2015 to 2018.

Smith, a dear friend and mentor to Flanagan, invited her over for a pot of coffee and a walk around the lake to talk about it.

Smith told Flanagan: “You’re definitely going to feel different after being sworn-in.”

Tina changed the way that the office of lieutenant governor is run in the state. Her and former Governor Mark Dayton had “a real partnership.”

“We’re hoping to building on that foundation and continue to define what that role is,” Flanagan said.

As for being part of history of Native women in office this year, Flanagan looks forward to what is to come.

“I’m really excited about today and feeling the weight of responsibilities for the office and really humble to be part of it. We are incorporating this whole ceremony. It’s going to be very personal,” she said. Justice Anne McKeig, White Earth Nation, the first Native American who is appointed to Supreme Court in Minnesota, will be officiating her oath into office. “We’re trying to tell the story of Native women leaders and I’m really honored and humbled to be part of those women across the country.”

Jourdan Bennett-Begaye, Diné, is a reporter/producer for Indian Country Today in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter: @jourdanbb. Email:jbennett-begaye@indiancountrytoday.com.