Indian Country Today
Democratic Rep. Deb Haaland of New Mexico says her first term in Congress has been nothing short of eventful after being sworn in during a government shutdown, voting in a presidential impeachment and working through a global pandemic.
Haaland, Laguna and Jemez Pueblo, is seeking reelection for a second term representing New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District. On Nov. 3, she faces Republican opponent Michelle Garcia-Holmes, a former police detective and administrator for the state attorney general’s office.
In 2018, Haaland alongside Kansas Rep. Sharice Davids, Ho-Chunk, made history as the first Native American women elected to Congress. Since then, Haaland says she’s felt proud to work on key legislation impacting Indian Country, including bills addressing the missing and murdered Indigenous women crisis.
The Not Invisible Act and Savanna’s Act were signed into law by President Donald J. Trump on Oct. 10. Both bills aid for better data collection, coordination and increased resources.
The Not Invisible Act was co-sponsored by Haaland and Davids, as well as two other Native American representatives, both Republicans, from Oklahoma: Tom Cole, Chickasaw, and Markwayne Mullin, Cherokee. It is believed to be the first bill in history to be introduced and passed by four members of federally recognized tribes.
Haaland told Indian Country Today that despite their different political affiliations, all four Native congressional members have been integral in passing legislation.
“The four of us have formed a strong bond. We know that we can push Indian issues,” Haaland said. “I’m really happy to have the opportunity to serve with Tom Cole, especially because he’s a veteran and he’s held the fort down in Indian Country for a lot of years.”
Haaland also says working with Davids has been a highlight of her term. “She’s my sister. And so often in my life, I’ve been the only Native person or female in the room … I’m so glad that in my first term of Congress, she is there with me.”
The duo have regularly been spotted encouraging one another and touting the accomplishments of each other's first term.
“There are young girls right now who don’t know what it’s like to not have a Native woman in Congress,” Haaland said.
Haaland has also used her first term to encourage Native people to participate in politics through voting or running for office.
In this election cycle alone Haaland has supported a number of Native candidates running for office including Christina Haswood, a 26-year-old candidate running for the Kansas state legislature; Lynnette Grey Bull, a candidate running for U.S. House in Wyoming; and Rudy Soto, a candidate running for U.S. House in Idaho.
“I just feel like it’s my obligation to leave the ladder down so that other Native women can climb,” Haaland said.
In addition to other issues, Haaland has advocated for protecting the environment.
In 2019, Haaland and members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation introduced the Chaco Cultural Heritage Area Protection Act, which would prevent any future leasing or development of minerals within a 10-mile protected radius around the national park.
Chaco Canyon is currently home to ancient ruins, artifacts and structures and is considered a sacred area by many Southwestern tribes.
The act was supported by the Navajo Nation, the All Pueblo Council of Governors, the National Congress of American Indians and others. It was passed in the House last year and is currently waiting to be heard in the Senate.
If elected for a second term, Haaland says she will likely reintroduce that bill and a number of other legislation to protect the canyon.
There has been buzz in recent weeks that, under a Joe Biden administration, Haaland could be nominated to lead the Department of Interior.
"She's somebody who's name just makes a lot of sense when you consider the qualifications that you have to bring to the table," Bryan Newland, chairman of the Bay Mills Indian Community, told Inside Climate News in October.
“I think it's nice that people are thinking about me. And of course, if I ever had an opportunity to step up and do good work for this district, for the state of New Mexico, for our country, I would always be proud to do that,” Haaland said on the topic.
Haaland also holds leadership positions on a number of committees. She is the vice-chair on the committee of natural resources, chair of the subcommittee on national parks, forests, and public lands and member of the subcommittee for Indigenous peoples. She is also a member of the house armed services committee, house subcommittee on readiness and house subcommittee on military personnel.
In March 2019, Haaland made history becoming the first Native woman to preside over the House floor where she was met with a standing ovation from bi-partisan congressional members for her accomplishment.
In the Democratic party, Haaland has been called on to give speeches, support candidates and push policy for the party.
During the 2020 DNC Convention, Haaland served on the organization’s platform drafting committee, which, for the first time included a land acknowledgement. She addressed millions of viewers on the final evening of the virtual convention in a primetime speech.
“My people survived centuries of slavery, genocide, and brutal assimilation policies,” Haaland said in the speech. “But throughout our past, tribal nations have fought for and helped build this country.”
On the 2020 campaign trail, Haaland, a self-described progressive candidate, has been criticized by her opponent as being “out of touch.”
“I’m running against a radical socialist. You know, we are in a fight for our nation. We’re in a fight for our faith, family and freedom,” Garcia Holmes said in a video to supporters last month.
Garcia Holmes has been endorsed by The Albuquerque Journal, a leading New Mexico newspaper; the Susan B. Anthony Candidate Fund, an organization dedicated to election pro-life women leaders; and the Albuqerque Police Officers Association.
Haaland has received more than $2 million in contributions from Jan. 2019 to Oct. 14, 2020. In the last year, Garcia Holmes has received more than $300,000, according to campaign finance data from the Federal Election Commission.
Aliyah Chavez, Kewa Pueblo, is a reporter-producer at Indian Country Today. Follow her on Twitter: @aliyahjchavez or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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