” Why not me ? ‘: Boot camp gives Indigenous women the tools they need to run for office | Native Americans
On a scenic island just a 30-minute ferry ride from downtown Seattle, Juanita Perez described losing a recent race for a delegate seat for the Tlingit and Haida tribes:
“I didn’t have all the tools to do it properly,” she says.
It was a recent weekend in April and the third day of an advocacy boot camp hosted by the Native Action Network, a nonprofit organization in Seattle, Washington. She sat in a circle of more than a dozen Indigenous women who reviewed the challenges of running for office as an Indigenous woman and the political positions they were each interested in pursuing.
The event, a first for the organization, was designed to help more “Indigenous women” run for office at all levels.
The 20 participants from 17 different tribes had traveled to the meeting space from Washington State and Oregon. There was a doctoral student, a school district board member, a children’s advocate, a Native American education liaison, real estate brokers, and an undergraduate student.
Some, like Perez, had already dabbled in politics, while others were still getting to grips with the perspective.
But each had put her life on hold as she explored the idea of sitting at the decision-making table that too often excludes Indigenous women. And in the process, they had each found a loyal support system in each other.
In 2020, the Center for American Women and Politics, which has tracked women’s political candidacies for 30 years, identified a record 18 women identified as Native American as candidates for U.S. congressional seats, including two in the House. The center numbers do not include Yvette Herrell, who is a member of the Cherokee Nation and was elected to the House.
The following year, Representative Deb Haaland, a registered Pueblo de Laguna member, became the first Native cabinet secretary in U.S. history.
But Native American or Alaska Native women make up 1.1% of the population, and yet, when combined with Native Hawaiian women, they still make up only 0.2% of all voting members of Congress.
In other words, they continue to be largely excluded from decision-making at the highest levels of the country, despite the fact, as Leah Salgado, head of impact for the women-led organization explained. IllumiNative natives, that their “very existence is a political issue”.
Now, as the country heads towards midterm elections, the bootcamp is meant to build on the momentum of years past by creating a space that, unlike many other campaign formations, was indigenous-specific, said Iris Friday, President and Co-Founder of Native Réseau Actions.
“It makes all the difference when you get all these women in the room and they have a safe space where they can have open and honest conversations and dialogues,” she said. “It’s so powerful to see what happens at the end of the day.”
There appear to be nine women who identify as Native American vying for U.S. congressional seats in the upcoming election, said Kelly Dittmar, research director for the Center for American Women and Politics, the second-highest number to this day. This number could increase further, since more than 100 women applied without specifying their race.
Salgado said it was important to understand the historical context surrounding indigenous peoples and the country’s political system. Natives weren’t granted citizenship in the United States until 1924, and then it took more than three decades before they were considered eligible to vote in every state.
“It’s necessary and important for Indigenous people to step into a place where we train and make efforts to ensure that Indigenous people have access to the political process, because we haven’t always had access to it,” she said.
Although still fairly rare, she says she’s noticed a slight increase in workouts like this. But, she says, getting Indigenous women into leadership positions is only one step. It is also about helping them once there.
“It also has to be about how we make sure they’re supported through all of this because you’re not elected and then the racism stops,” she said.
In a series of detailed sessions, boot camp attendees learned about fundraising, Pacs, communication styles and crafting their individual message. They heard from Washington State Senator Mona Das, a Democrat, and Windy Anderson, a council member from the Suquamish Tribe.
On Saturday morning, a professional photographer took their portraits. On Sunday, their bags were filled with books such as Lead from the Outside by Stacey Abrams and Run for Something by Amanda Litman.
Every day the women sat along long wooden tables, sharing meals together. There were spontaneous discussions about the revitalization of native languages and the amount of blood. In the evening, they stayed together in neighboring pavilions.
In the following months, they will have at least three additional training sessions, including one on public speaking in July.
Lafaitele Faitalia, 38, Tongan and Samoan, plans to run for the Washington State House. The training taught her to bring her authentic self, she said, while helping her understand Pacs and the daunting prospect of fundraising.
“If you are not exposed to the political systems in the United States; if you don’t know what it looks like, [or about] navigating these systems, but you want to make changes and you want to run for office, it’s going to be daunting,” said Faitalia, who is a chief in Samoa and sits on the Washington State Commission on American Affairs of ‘Asia Pacific.
Lisa Young, 59, who is Tlingit and Navajo, spent 15 years working as a finance director for city government but is now considering campaigning for city council in her small hometown of Redmond, Oregon. She says she wants to give a voice to her small indigenous population, as well as her other minorities, as well as immigrants.
“[Being] allowed me to recharge and say that I can be that person of service even though I know there will be obstacles,” she said. “I think these women have strengthened me a bit. Enough to say, OK, I’m less scared today than before.
Claudia Kauffman, Vice President and Co-Founder of Native Action Network, knows firsthand what it’s like to run for office as an Indigenous woman. In 2007, she was sworn in as the first Native woman elected to the Washington State Senate.
But, she says, it was more than 25 years ago, while working for Indigenous activist Bernie Whitebear, that inspired her to come forward. They were at the State Capitol in Olympia, meeting with lawmakers to try to secure funding for after-school programs for Indigenous children.
“They’re just people like you and me,” he told her.
She remembers thinking, “If it’s just people, then why not me?
Now, through this advocacy boot camp, she is trying to have a similar impact on these Indigenous women, no matter what type of position they seek.
“Our job, our duty, is to nurture future leaders, the next generation of leaders that we have within our community that we know are strong, resilient and committed,” she said.
On the third day of the training, when organizers asked the group if they were inspired to run for office, six women raised their hands, and two others said they wanted to explore getting seats on councils. administration and committees.
Perhaps equally important was how quickly the women had become staunch supporters of each other.
On the last day of bootcamp, when Perez described losing the race, within seconds attendees responded with messages of support.
One of them encouraged her to become bigger if her tribal community was not receptive to her. Another said she had connections to the tribe and offered to help. Then a third said to her: “You are not alone.