Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) urged indigenous women to advocate for the issues affecting their communities in political dialogue Tuesday.
The experiences of indigenous women give them a greater capacity to respect cultural pluralism and multilingualism, according to Haaland, one of the first two Native American women to serve in the U.S. Congress.
“I feel that what I bring to the table is my perspective as an indigenous woman. I know how to respect cultures. I know how to respect traditions. I know how to be respectful when somebody is speaking their indigenous language,” Haaland said. “I know the United States has a trust responsibility to Indian tribes, and that goes for all Indian tribes.”
Haaland, who took office earlier in 2019, became the first Native American woman to ever preside over the U.S. House of Representatives this month.
Addressing her role as a female legislator, Haaland said that although women have to work harder to gain recognition in the U.S. government, they should use that platform to boost issues that their constituents care about.
“We just have to be ourselves and push forward and say we’re here because we care about the people we are representing,” Haaland said. “We’re here because we want our ideas and our issues to be at the forefront, and that’s really why anyone should want to serve the public, because they care deeply about the constituency.”
Haaland participated in an event titled “Intersectional Feminism in Congress,” hosted by the women’s and gender studies program in the Reiss Science Building. The event was moderated by You-Me Park, director of the WGST program, and featured a conversation between Haaland and Donna Brazile, a WGST adjunct assistant professor and former chair of the Democratic National Committee.
Minority representatives should not be intimidated about advocating for issues that directly affect their communities, Haaland said.
“It’s all about getting involved, it’s all about making sure that you are advocating for the right things,” Haaland said. “Because quite frankly, there are a lot of folks in Congress who don’t know or understand even what tribes are, or what that relationship is, or what they should be doing.”
The barriers faced by minority representatives such as Haaland can only be dismantled once young American voters show the willingness to take political initiative, according to Brazile.
“We can make it possible that one day we wake up and we’re not counting two Native American women. And we’re not counting a handful of African-Americans, and a handful of Hispanics and a handful of openly gay candidates,” Brazile said. “Your generation, the largest generation of voters, you can make that happen. And why you? I tell it to my students, you know, because there’s no one better. And why now? Because tomorrow is not soon enough.”
Haaland is particularly concerned about addressing some of the issues faced by Native American communities, such as the high occurrence of disappearances and murders of indigenous women. Native women on tribal lands face a murder rate 10 times higher than the national average, according to a 2016 Department of Justice report.
Improvements must be made to law enforcement structures in native communities, according to Haaland.
“So much needs to be done,” Haaland said. “If tribal police are the only ones on the scene for miles and miles and miles, they need to know how to handle evidence. The FBI needs to have a unit in their organization that deals more with this issue, because it’s in epidemic proportions.”
This article was updated March 29 to correct the nature of the WGST program.