'It's so important for our young people to vote'

Ruth Buffalo

Indian Country Today

'We know through policy (change) we have the opportunity to improve the quality of life for everybody'

In this election year there are several Native American candidates who will be on the ballot this November.

Ruth Buffalo knows what they are going through right now. She is the first Native American woman to be elected to the North Dakota legislature as a state representative. 

Buffalo is from the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation. Here are some of her comments: 

"Representation does matter in every level of government."

"If we are at the table we are more likely to have increased visibility and we can raise awareness to certain issues that directly impact Native American communities across North Dakota."

"I was on the judiciary committee and the agriculture committee in the last legislative session. North Dakota is a little bit different in that we don't meet every year for our legislative session. So currently we're in an off year, which is referred to as our interim year. So I am on the interim judiciary committee. And yes, all of the bills, all six of them went through the judiciary committee." 

"North Dakotans, you know, we are very resilient. We have lots of harsh weather, we're known for being very gritty and hardworking and being able to withstand blizzards, very extreme weather conditions. So that kind of plays a part into who we are as a people."

"It's also kind of getting back to the traditional grassroots organizing of having a phone conversation with someone. There are pluses and minuses but the huge challenge that we see ahead of us is not really being able to have that door to door contact, which was very huge within my 2018 legislative race, was going door to door. That's so important. So we have to make adjustments during these COVID-19 times."

"Thomasina Mandan-Stevens is running for district 4 House and she lives in Newtown, North Dakota, which is located on Fort Berthold Indian Reservation."

"Both Thomasina Mandan-Stevens and Lisa Finley-Deville are both MHA citizens and residents of Fort Berthold Indian Reservation. Lisa is running for district 4 Senate and she's from Mandaree."

"We have our work cut out for us but I believe these women are up for the challenge and we're looking forward to bringing a much needed upset in November."

"Tracey Willkie, who is a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, she is running for House District 16 and she did very well in the primary. She was trailing the incumbent. So, there's two incumbents that she's running against in the House and she was trailing only by 58 votes. So, it's definitely within her reach. And so it's exciting to have three Native women running for office in this election cycle."

"The most important thing is to not give up and to stay involved. After the 2016 election, I had run for insurance commissioner (and lost), first time running ever, and it just so happened to be a statewide race. But the day after the election, I remember sitting at my laptop and doing a lot of research and trying to find ways of how can I carry this work forward because so many people across North Dakota had shared their personal stories with me and I felt a huge responsibility to do something with that."

"I hope that more people will continue to stay involved and learn as much as you can in trying to help change policy because we know that through policy, we have an opportunity to improve the quality of life for everybody."

"My daughter was making breakfast and she said, 'Just think next year I get to vote.' She's 17. She just turned 17 in January and she has been, all of them have actually been active throughout the political arena that I've been embarked on."

"My children have been a part of this process as far back as 2014."

"I can remember the very first March that my daughter and I did in 2016, it was just the two of us holding a banner. She was super nervous and kind of hiding behind the banner but towards the end of the March she was doing cartwheels."

"It's really a family effort that this has been and we hope to continue moving forward. I hope to get reelected in 2022 in my same seat that I hold right now. And I'm thankful for the people in district 27 for electing me to represent them."

"It's so important for our young people to vote. We know that even with the public health work that we do that the young voting age is a huge block within our Native population across the country. Just trying to encourage our youth to stay involved, that their vote does matter."

"We need them now more than ever to exercise the right to vote."

"Bismarck is the largest urban Native population and then Fargo. So there's a lot of opportunity to do outreach in these areas. And we know that a lot of our Native youth are engaged in different leadership programs. For example, the North Dakota Indian Youth Leadership Academy, I was an alumni from it when I was in high school and my daughter is now also."

"There's much opportunity there to shift the representation in 2020. And also we know that within the seven battleground states, they also have such huge Native population. So we're, we're hopeful."

"Due to COVID-19, our governor, he issued an executive order to have vote by mail for the entire state of North Dakota, which has, that has never happened before."

"There was only one drop box within Fort Berthold Indian Reservation and the same for this past last week, June primary. So that's one drop box for 1 million acres of land which poses an additional challenge. So we're hoping to work out the kinks in time for the November election and do some really strong outreach, especially in our tribal rural communities."

"It's been a good experience so far being in the state legislature. I'm hopeful that we will have more people of diverse backgrounds. We need fresh perspectives."

Also in the newscast, Jourdan Bennett-Begaye has the latest numbers of positive COVID-19 tests in Indian Country.

The anchor and executive producer of the newscast is Patty Talahongva

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