#SOTU 'guests' include Navajo Nation president, Lt. Gov of Minnesota, citizens

Brianna Lamb, Aaniiih, is Sen. Jon Tester's guest for the State of the Union. (Press Release)

Jourdan Bennett-Begaye

Updated at 9 pm: Minnesota’s Peggy Flanagan uses moment to promote the idea of government-to-government relations

Beginning just before 9:00 p.m. tonight.

​White Earth citizen Peggy Flanagan plans to sit in what should be a packed House of Representatives wearing her ribbon skirt while the president delivers the annual State of the Union.

The Minnesota lieutenant governor hopes her attendance and meetings with other legislators sends a message about how important government-to-government relations are with tribal nations and how the shutdown impacted Native communities.

Sen. Tina Smith, former lieutenant governor, invited Flanagan as her guest to the Capitol.

“I am honored that Lieutenant Governor Flanagan has agreed to be my guest at the President’s State of the Union Address. But more than that, I’m grateful to Peggy for her commitment to work for people across the state in the spirit of ‘One Minnesota’,” Smith said in a statement. “Peggy leads with compassion, determination, and I know she not only inspires me—she is a source of inspiration for Americans across the United States.”

Last month, Flanagan told Indian Country Today that Smith was the first person she called when now Gov. Tim Walz asked her to be his running mate.

Flanagan reached out to Smith again at the beginning of the shutdown to discuss the impact.

“I want to thank Senator Smith for inviting me to the State of the Union and for standing up for Minnesotans in Washington,” Flanagan said. “As the highest-ranking Native woman elected to executive office, I look forward to shedding light on the issues facing our Native communities, because everyone deserves to be seen, heard, and valued.”

Four other Indigenous legislators, and their guests, will be sitting under the same roof as Flanagan, listening to the president’s words. (Every member of Congress has a guest invitation.)

Tuesday Sen. Tom Udall, D-New Mexico, announced that Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez would be his guest.

“As the vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, and as a senator from New Mexico – home to 23 Tribes and Pueblos – one of my top priorities in Congress is making sure our government lives up to its trust and treaty obligations. That’s why I am enormously proud to invite the President of the Navajo Nation, Jonathan Nez, to attend the State of the Union Address and send a message to this administration about the importance of our responsibilities to Tribal communities in New Mexico and across the country,” Udall in a news release. “As the leader of the Navajo Nation, representing over 300,000 tribal citizens on the largest reservation spanning four states, President Nez is a key partner in our shared work to expand opportunity across Indian Country, protect Tribal sovereignty, and promote Tribal self-determination and self-governance. He brings with him the stories of how the Trump shutdown disrupted critical health and public safety services in violation of the federal government’s trust and treaty obligations. I am very glad President Nez will be able to attend this address, and look forward to continuing to work together to accomplish the priorities of New Mexico and Indian Country. And as we gather to consider the state of our union, I will continue to make sure that New Mexico’s voice is heard, and stand up for the values and priorities of all New Mexicans.”

“I am honored be a guest of Honorable Senator Tom Udall, who has always been a strong supporter and champion for Indian Country,” said President Nez. “It’s imperative that the Navajo Nation have a strong united voice at the federal and congressional level, especially when we are impacted by issues such as the recent government shutdown. We felt the impacts of the shutdown and we are letting all of the House and Senate members, as well as the White House know that they need to pass a long-term budget that fully funds the BIA, IHS, and other agencies that assist the Navajo Nation. We look forward to hearing the State of the Union and determine how we can partner with Senator Udall and other leaders.”

Nez's vice president Myron Lizer was invited by Rep. Tom O'Halleran.

Sen. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico chose Kurt Riley, former Pueblo of Acoma Governor as his guest to the Capitol.

Rep. Sharice Davids, D-Kansas, Ho-Chunk, will bring mother and healthcare advocate Laura Robeson from Prairie Village, Kansas. Robeson’s 7-year-old son has medical conditions that are covered by the Affordable Care Act.

“Laura is passionate about making sure her son Danny, and other kids with medical conditions have access to the care they need,” Davids said in a release. “Hosting her as my guest for the State of the Union is an opportunity to highlight the dangers of allowing insurance companies to discriminate against people based on their medical histories. I’m working to make sure more Kansans—not fewer—are able to get healthcare. I hope the President will stop sabotaging health care protections and start working with people from both parties to make sure more Americans are able to access care.”

Laura Robeson of Kansas with her 7-year-old son. (Instagram | @RepDavids)

The mother’s son was a premature baby born with cerebral palsy, epilepsy, and cortical vision impairment, all which require regular doctor visits to specialists.

“I have had many sleepless nights over the last few years as Congress and the President have worked to dismantle our healthcare law and protections for people with preexisting conditions like my son Danny,” Robeson said. “My family could be bankrupt and unable to get healthcare for Danny without protections in the Affordable Care Act. I hope my presence at this important event will bring some attention to how important it is to protect access to care for the millions of Americans who have preexisting conditions.”

Taking another medical or health care approach is Dr. James Higgins, a friend and cardiologist from Tulsa, Oklahoma, as Rep. Markwayne Mullin’s guest, according to his press secretary. Mullin is Republican and a citizen of the Cherokee Nation.

Rep. Deb Haaland has a new seat on the Equality Caucus and so she invited Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality.

The Equality Caucus is a resource for members of Congress, their staff and the public for issues happening at the federal level.

(ICYMI: Military policy ban concerns Two Spirit veterans in Indian Country)

“After the attack on transgender military personnel by this administration and the Supreme Court’s misguided decision, it is important to lift up the voices of our transgender community,” Haaland said in a statement. “After meeting with Mara last week, it was clear that her work to fight hate was a perfect contrast to the discriminatory policies pushed by this administration. We’ll be working together to protect trans troops and be a force for equality in these troubling times.”

Haaland will take another step toward equality and wear white to the address, radio station KRWG said. Haaland is a Democrat from New Mexico. She is a citizen of Laguna Pueblo. The white symbolizes women’s suffrage movement and it was the official color of the National Women’s Party, according to CNBC. (Purple and gold were two other colors of the party.) The House of Democratic Women’s Working Group is encouraging women in both parties to wear white.

This year marks the 100th year since the suffrage act made it through both houses. It was ratified in 1920, the same year women could finally vote. Now 106 women serve in the House of Representatives.

Native women’s rights had an influence on the suffrage act, too, said Roesch Wagner.

Wagner told Forbes in November that Betsy Love, Chickasaw, won a lawsuit to keep her property after a marriage per the Chickasaw law. Based on that law, “Mississippi passed the first Married Women’s Property Act in 1839.”

Haudenosaunee women also held a strong voice in politics in their confederacy and still do.

“Suffragists like Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the lesser-known-but-equally-important Matilda Joslyn Gage knew these women, and Stanton and Gage wrote about the position of these women as far superior to their own,” Wagner said.

New York resident Ana Maria Archila amplifies the equality message by joining Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as her guest.

Archila stopped Sen. Jeff Flake on the elevator after he said he will support now Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

Sen. Jon Tester brings missing and murdered Indigenous women to the front with his guest and advocate Briana Lamb, Aaniiih, of Missoula, Montana.

For the past six years, Lamb has been involved in the missing and murdered Indigenous women movement and has recently shifted her focus to policymaking with Tester.

“Briana has been an invaluable source of insight and inspiration as we’ve worked to start a national conversation about this epidemic,” Tester said in a statement. “I hope her presence on Tuesday will help push that conversation forward and inspire others to take up arms in the fight against sexual and domestic violence.”

As way to get more answers, Tester was one of the two to organize the Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing on the epidemic in December.

“I’m very honored to have been asked to be Senator Tester’s guest at the State of the Union and applaud the stance he has taken on the MMIW issue,” Lamb said. “He has chosen to stand in solidarity with efforts to halt this crisis and protect the lives of Native women and girls. This shouldn’t be an Indigenous issue, but an issue for everyone.”

A senior official on the Trump administration told USA Today that the speech focuses on five areas: immigration and border security, trade, infrastructure spending, military and diplomacy, and health care.

Trump is also aiming for a overall “unifying tone” in his speech, The Hill reported.

The official also said that the president will say something along the lines of, “Together we can break decades of political stalemate, we can bridge old divisions, heal old wounds, build new coalitions, forge new solutions and unlock the extraordinary promise of America’s future. The decision is ours to make.”

Indian Country Today’s Mark Trahant will post a live blog Tuesday night with commentary and analysis about the president’s speech and any implications for Indian Country.


Date: Today
Time: 9:00 p.m. EST
Location: House of Representatives, U.S. Capitol
Live stream: Here at Indian Country Today

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