The invisible Native? That's not the story told on candidate videos

Mark Trahant

Paulette Jordan's ad: "God ... give us candidates' #NativeVote18

Deb Haaland’s TV commercial is way personal. She tells a story.

“I don’t look like most people in Congress. My life is different too. I pushed through college. And law school as a single mom,” she says. Then: “I am 30 years sober.”

That’s not a message often heard in political advertising.

“I say that in my ad because number one, I feel you that I should be transparent with the voters,” Haaland, Laguna Pueblo, said at the National Congress of American Indians meeting in Denver this week. That reveal is important because New Mexico has one of the highest DWI rates of any state in this country. And the ad sends a message “that people can have a second chance and they can do wonderful things. Right? I've had. So there's not a day that goes by that I don't think that I could be living under a bridge today if I hadn't have had the love and support of my community and my family.” Haaland is the Democratic nominee for Congress in New Mexico's first congressional district.

Most political ads are about a candidate’s smarts. A resume perhaps. Or powerful connections. Haaland’s ads are human. Another ad focuses on the challenges women face in the public square. “In the face of Donald Trump and men like him — we must be fierce,” she says in her campaign’s closing argument. “I've always fought for women of color, single moms, lesbians and trans women, military families, and any woman who has been assaulted or harassed.”

Campaign ads are always important to candidates. They tell voters about the person, why they are running, and a bit about their values. But this year’s commercials do something else: They tell the voters, that is the citizens, that Native Americans are still here. And that Native American candidates bring something new to the larger national discourse.

These TV commercials by Native candidates are 30 second solutions to the problem of Native American invisibility. They change the story. (Previous story: Candidate's political ads are changing the very image of Native people )

And when it comes to changing that story, Paulette Jordan gives Idaho voters a most unexpected take. She’s done the riding-the-horse thing. She’s been doing the young people, cool thing. Now her latest ad calls on a higher power.

"I just figured if God wanted us to vote, he'd give us candidates. And there just haven't been any candidates,” says Randy Priest, a bearded Idaho hat maker. “But finally we have a candidate: Paulette Jordan."

Peggy Flanagan’s video message is not funny, but poignant. Flanagan, White Earth Nation, is running for lieutenant governor in Minnesota on the Democratic Farmer Labor ticket. “I was the kid with the different colored lunch ticket, and Medicaid saved my life as a kid with asthma,” she says. :Some politicians talk about ‘those people’ well I am ‘those people’. My entire life I’ve fought for children and families and that’s what I’ll continue to do.”

Most of the Republican candidates ads are focused on general GOP themes such as tax cuts.

An ad supporting Dino Rossi, Tlingit, may be one of the nastiest in this campaign season. According to the Seattle P-I’s Joel Connelly: “The reappearance of dark clouds signals onset of autumn in the Northwest, while stark, black-and-white images on your television screen signal the start of fall mud slinging in our hot election contests. The Congressional Leadership Fund, a vehicle of House Speaker Paul Ryan, is out of the gate and going for the gut -- and into the gutter -- against Dr. Kim Schrier, the Issaquah pediatrician who carries Democrats' hopes in the 8th Congressional District.” The ad says she refused Medicaid patients a fact that’s only true because of the hospital group she practices in.

Oklahoma’s Kevin Stitt, Cherokee, offers a “fix it” ad, listing the problems in Oklahoma and then offers to resolve them. “It’s hard times now in Oklahoma,” he says blaming “career politicians” and “insiders” for those woes. “That’s why I am running for governor.”

Rep. Tom Cole, Chickasaw, shows an ad that puts “Oklahoma first.” He cites tax cuts, increased support for the military, including local bases, and federal disaster funding for the state.

Of course the role of a “fighter” was a spot used by Sharice Davids, Ho Chunk, in her primary campaign. However her general election ads focus on her Kansas constituents, ordinary people (including a Republican) giving testimonials about trusting Davids for the job. Davids won the Democratic primary and now faces an incumbent, Republican Kevin Yoder.

Ashley Nicole McCray, Absentee Shawnee, is running for the Oklahoma Corporation Commission as a Democrat. Her video is about her opponent -- and earthquakes. “When Bob Anthony was elected to the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, there were two earthquakes a year in Oklahoma,” she says. “Thirty years later, there are more than two a day. Anthony is funded by money from Big Oil and Gas, the very industries we elected him to regulate.”

Indian Country Today will stream a live coast-to-coast newscast on election day partnering with FNX / First Nations Experience and Native Voice One. The newscast will begin at 6 pm Pacific / 9 pm Eastern. Hashtag: #NativeElectionNight

Mark Trahant is editor of Indian Country Today. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Follow him on Twitter -@TrahantReports


The National Congress of American Indians is the owner of Indian Country Today and manages its business operations. The Indian Country Today editorial team operates independently as a digital journalism enterprise.

Comments (2)
No. 1-1

I do not believe either Laguna Pueblo Nation nor the New Mexico Pueblo Council has gone on RECORD to endorse.......Deb Haaland (not that it would change my mind)!