She makes history

Photo credit: C-SPAN

Aliyah Chavez

Isleta Pueblo chief justice makes history by being the first Native woman to give an opening prayer on the House floor * This story has been corrected

Verna Teller is chief justice of Isleta Pueblo … and she made history this morning. She was the first Native woman to deliver an opening prayer on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives.

“Creator and Great Mother, bless those standing before you who carry a sacred trust to all of us who inhabit Turtle Island, our homeland … and I pray today that you will give the wisdom and courage to carry out their sacred trust,” Chief Justice Teller said in her invocation. 

Teller was introduced by the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi. 

Isleta Chief Justice Verna Teller and Rep. Deb Haaland pose for a photo in Haaland's office before giving a historic invocation on the House floor. Photo by Jourdan Bennett-Begaye. 

Rep. Haaland, D-New Mexico, also gave a one-minute speech. She was emotional as she spoke. “I am honored to have a fierce woman of my district to deliver a historic opening prayer,” Rep. Haaland said. “Because of the history of colonization, many Pueblos generally don’t allow women to hold leadership positions, but that didn’t stop Judge Teller from knowing her value as a tribal leader.”

Teller, who dressed in a traditional white and red dress and black manta, was elected as the first female governor of Isleta Pueblo in 1987. She has also served as president of the Isleta tribal council for eight years.

Teller was appointed as the chief justice by Isleta Governor Max Zuni in 2019. He says he appointed her because of her expertise and positive attitude, adding that that she has a deep knowledge of tribal traditions and laws. Governor Zuni says she’s also active with Isleta youth and cares about protecting them.

“I’m very proud and honored to hear that Congresswoman Haaland asked our community member to give a historic invocation,” says Governor Zuni. “It’s really an honor.”

Teller’s remarks came as Rep. Haaland, D-New Mexico, invited her to speak in honor of Native American Heritage Month.

Reverend Michael Cummings, Lumbee, delivered a prayer on the U.S. House floor in May 2009. Cummings was the first Native person to deliver a prayer in the same capacity. 

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

Comments (2)
No. 1-2

May God Bless you, Isleta Pueblo community and Verna.


Excellent. And as the great actor Wes Studi said in another context recently, "It's about time!"

BTW, at the beginning of the prayer, are "Creator" and "Great Mother" considered to be two separate persons, the first perhaps being male? (I think conventionally Indians conceive of the Creator as a male being, perhaps along the lines of the biblical divine character "God.") Or are "Creator" and "Great Mother" two expressions for one and the same person, apparently female?