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Pauly Denetclaw
ICT

Yá’át’ééh, my name is Pauly Denetclaw and I’m the political correspondent for ICT, a position I didn’t come to lightly or by accident. I’ve spent a lifetime preparing to help lead this coverage.

I was raised in a family that voted in every single election. State, national and tribal politics were topics discussed over a dinner of tortillas, pork chops and potatoes. During election nights, my family would turn on the news and we would watch the votes roll in.

The first election I ever followed was in 2000. I was seven years old and I remember asking my parents what a hanging chad was. That year I voted online through the Nickelodeon website for “Kids Pick the President.” I eagerly awaited the results that would go live, as a preview, before the election that was just days away. I remember telling my mother that Al Gore was going to win, the kids had voted.

He didn’t win and George Bush became the 43rd president of the United States.

As I got older, my mother instilled in me the importance of voting. She would always tell me about my grandmother, the matriarch of our family, and how she voted in every county, state and tribal election. My mother would say, it didn’t matter if it was just a bond election, my grandmother was there to say yes or no.

This was ever more sweet when my mother took me to vote with her in 2008. Once again telling me the story of my grandmother and why it was so important that our voice, our vote be heard. We drove to her polling location, just down the street from our home at a county fire station. She grabbed me a sample ballot and explained what everything was to me. I never knew how much we voted for, from county positions to bonds to state officials.

I wasn’t eligible to vote but my mother asked me who I wanted to be my president. An adult had never asked me that before and it was the first time I felt like I was heard, where my opinion mattered in something that was much bigger than me. I walked around all day at my junior high school with my “I Voted” sticker that the polling workers gave to me. I was beaming all day, telling all my friends and teachers about how I went with my mother on election day to cast her ballot.

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ICT Political Correspondent Pauly Denetclaw, Diné, interviews Cecelia Fire Thunder, Oglala Lakota, in July 2022 about the recent Roe v. Wade decision by the Supreme Court and how it'll affect Indigenous nations and peoples. (Photo by Jourdan Bennett-Begaye, ICT)
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The more I learned about federal Indian law, tribal sovereignty, and Navajo Nation Code, the more I knew this was the type of reporting I wanted to go into. I finally made my way here and I couldn’t be happier. Following elections and policy is something I did in my free time. Now, I get to follow it and write about it every day.

Here are a couple of the stories I’ve been able to do:

Rep. Mary Peltola sworn into Congress

In the calm before the storm, U.S. Rep. Mary Peltola, Yup’ik, embraced her colleague U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids, Ho-Chunk, on the House floor. Peltola was wearing her white mukluks with deep brown fur for her swearing-in ceremony on Tuesday night.

Last month, on her 49th birthday, Peltola, a Democrat, won the special election to finish out the late Don Young's term, which ends in January. Her victory meant Peltola bested a field of candidates that included Republican Sarah Palin, who was seeking a political comeback in the state where she once served as governor.

Peltola looked up to find her family and friends in the gallery. She gestured toward them and both lawmakers waved. A dozen or so people waved back at Peltola and Davids. Her husband, seven children and a few of her grandchildren were in attendance.

“I’m starting to cry," said Naomi Miguel, staff director for the House subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples of the United States. "When I started here in Congress there was no one that looked like us and it was so nice to see Deb and Sharice break those barriers for us and then to see this today for Alaska Native women. It’s been such an honor and I’m so happy to enjoy it with my staff who are also Native women from throughout the country. I’m just so excited to know that we’re breaking these barriers.” READ MORE.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Mary Peltola chat before the ceremonial swearing-in at the Rayburn Room of the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2022.  (Photo by Pauly Denetclaw, ICT)

Cherokee citizen nabs GOP nomination for OK Senate seat

In a crisp, white shirt, Markwayne Mullin addressed the crowd at his watch party held at the Stokely Event Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma Tuesday night. Surrounded by his family, he thanked the boots-on-the-ground volunteers who worked for his campaign, knocking on doors, to help get him elected.

Mullin is one step closer to being the fifth Indigenous person ever elected to the U.S. Senate. He now heads to November’s general election as the favorite. He won Tuesday’s GOP primary runoff for one of Oklahoma’s U.S. Senate seats, making him a likely favorite in the known conservative state to win the seat U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe is leaving early after nearly 30 years in office. An Indigenous person hasn’t been in the Senate since 2005.

“I just want to tell everybody we couldn't do this without you,” Mullin said. “In fact, I feel guilty when you guys are walking up to me and tell me, congratulations, because so many in this room, and so many that didn't get to make it here tonight, you guys spent countless hours volunteering for us, knocking doors, supporting us financially, posting on social media. None of this is possible without you guys.” READ MORE.

U.S. Rep Markwayne Mullin and his family at his U.S. Senate watch party in Tulsa, Oklahoma on June 28, 2022. (Photo via Facebook)

I’m so excited for the coverage I’ll be able to do going forward. It’s just 47 days until the midterm elections. Catch up on the latest in the political and policy realm through this newsletter.

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Ahéhee’ for supporting our work!

Pauly Denetclaw
ICT Political Correspondent

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