Patty Talahongva

Indian Country Today

August 17-20 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin the Democratic National Committee will host its presidential convention but it's going to look much different than past conventions, all due to the coronavirus pandemic. Instead of the thousands of delegates and politicians and news reporters who typically attend the four day long convention, this time, not even the candidates will be there in person. Joining us today is Debbie Nez-Manuel, she is the Democratic National Committee woman, the first Native American to be ele. 

Mary Annette Pember, Indian Country Today’s national correspondent, is back on the newscast with an update on the stories she's covering. 

Debbie Nez-Manuel:

“Back in January, I asked the same question and I learned that as a delegate, you're there to pledge your devotion to your candidate and for all of the principles, values and things that they have but as a committee member, you are there sitting alongside the chairman, Tom Perez, you're working with them. You're making sure that you are fundraising, that you're identifying priorities for the party. Similar to what we see tribal councils do for Indian country, for their tribal nation. So there is a slight difference but nonetheless, we all play an important role in this, all the complexities of the parties.”

“I asked myself that question back in January, there was an opportunity to come forward and when I think about what we need here in Indian country, I think about the systems, the gaps that we have and I enjoy voting, but for me, that's just not enough. I think there's more issues that we can really learn together.”

“I ran along seven other extremely brilliant, well-trained professionals who were vying for this position...It’s all about being strategic. And I thought, you know what, I'm going to really have to dig deep because if I want change to happen, I'm going to have to be at the table where some of the biggest decisions get made, like allocating money for voter education, making sure we educate our party systems, making sure that they understand what we feel from a grassroots organization, what has to happen.”

“There's also a difference between a formal tribal government system versus grassroots and the real voters on the ground. So I really took these into consideration. I said, you know what, I can do this or I can sit and pledge my devotion to a candidate. So I went and decided to run as a committee member. It was the first time I actually experienced a standing ovation with seven candidates that were trained attorneys, professionals. All I did was speak from my heart. I spoke about the importance of our elders, our grandparents, our youth being educated about the voter system.”

“I believe that we have to be the best negotiators at the table as Indian country. We have to be at the table and I don't necessarily wait for somebody to give me a chair. You know, I can be traditional and sit on the floor but I'm going to still be at that table.”

“I think being a delegate is really crucial. I mean, all of these moving pieces require us to be so strategic. We can't just sit there and cast a vote. There's so much more that has to be done. I believe that as a fierce advocate, I see myself as a different kind of agitator. I speak truthfully, I speak honestly, and in a way that's respectful, respectful of the people I'm working with. But my mission is in the next few decades to make sure that people know who we are and what we need in our communities. Again, allocating money for voter education, making sure our people understand the technical sides of campaigns and finances, helping others to understand that their time and their money, it has to be there for us to be influencers. If we don't give time, we don't give money, we can't influence anything to happen. And that's real. I think when we prepare for a ceremony, at any time, we're always giving food. We're always giving time. We're doing so much more. We have to do the same thing to take care of our young people who this future belongs to and then to make sure our elders' needs are taken care of. We want to ensure that the candidates who get nominated understand the depths of Indian country.”

“That's something when I was running, there was an assumption on my part that there were many other tribal leaders who had filled this seat. And I went into that room so confident thinking, you know, I had these images of some of our great tribal leaders and I said, ‘they've done this, I can do this too.’ And so I get in there and I share my positions, my values and a week later I find out that, ‘Debbie, you're the first elected Native American.’ And I'm like, ‘what?’ I was really confused. And I was like you better be sure that that's true ‘cause I can't take anybody's hard work away from them, but you know, lo and behold, I did find out I was the first Native American and I'm honored to be a part of that but it also knowing it comes with a lot of responsibility.”

“I did run and I lost a race, but I didn't just lose a race. I've done so much to educate Indian country about the power of their vote. In my race recently, I ran against two incumbents and a slate and when a coalition is there standing together, that's when we have to rally behind the candidate to have the privilege to go forward. And that was something I went for. And when I lost, I lost by 500 and about 50 votes. It wasn't much. It was bittersweet. With it, I take so much experience that I can help others grow from, learn from, and really show our youth, our youth, that they can do this. It's not impossible.”

“It took an incredible amount of time. It took years for me to get to this point and to understand the complexities.”

“There’s been so much planning that has happened both locally here in the County, at the state level and with the national committee, we've been talking about even establishing a date was difficult during this pandemic, but nonetheless, we can go forward and continue to pay attention and things that are really relevant to us are issues that impact women issues that impact our health.”

“I am excited to have her on board. I remember when she ran her campaign back last year in 2019, it was exciting because we need educated and qualified women to run these races. We need women of color to step forward and to have someone of her stature come forward and to show that she is committed to our country.”

“A few windows open, a few computers at my desk. So I'm watching it and participating and contributing and you know, it's going to be an exciting time. It's going to be something that I get to absorb and be a part of.”

Mary Annette Pember:

“Well, I don't actually know how they invented that word, but it's a great word. I mean, it's a combination of lactation and activists, and these are really grasped. They are indeed activist grassroots people who are seeking to encourage and support other Native women and their families in breastfeeding.”

“August is National Breastfeeding Month. And I think that the Indigenous women wanted something more specifically targeted for them. Native women have the lowest rates, I think second only to black women for breastfeeding. And they wanted something that really focused on some of the historical trauma that influenced the lack of breastfeeding numbers. So they chose to create a breastfeeding week and we're in the middle of it right now.”

“There is a great deal of importance in breastfeeding and I was able to find out some really interesting new information that breastfeeding has. It prevents obesity in children, and it's also very helpful for the mother and child. It helps reduce allergies and illness. And for mothers it actually helps them produce oxytocin, which kind of is considered the love hormone, which would help them combat postpartum depression. And it also cuts back on future cancers, there's all kinds of benefits. The really interesting thing that I learned doing this story, there was a study that's recently been published by the National Institute of Health, that when baby breastfeed, the babies, when they're feeding, create a vacuum and their saliva actually transfers messages to the mother and who then is able to produce for instance, antibodies to respond to the baby of the baby's ill.”

“Mothers, really are medicine.”

“The Bureau of Indian education, it looks like they are really pushing to open their direct bureau funded schools. There's like 55 schools throughout Indian country, and they want to do in-person instruction and not all tribes agree with that. So that's somewhat of a problem and people can look at the story and get more information about that.”