Deb Haaland of the Laguna Pueblo tribe may be the first Native American woman in the United States Congress. New York Minute Magazine was able to have a conversation with Haaland about her career, her experiences, and her hopes for the future.
“It’s been 242 years [since the country was founded] and we’ve elected over 10,200 members to Congress in that time yet we’ve never had a Native American woman,” Haaland said. “It’s way past due.”
“[Representation] is so important,” she continued. “People want to feel like they’re actually being represented by somebody who understands their struggles. When you look at the makeup of Congress right now there are too few women, too few women of color, and an overabundance of white males. Our legislative body should look like our country and I’d love to see that happen.”
Initially inspired by overwhelmingly low rates of Native American voter registration and participation, Haaland entered the realm of politics as a phone volunteer.
“I went to phone banks and made phone calls and it escalated from there,” she said. “I volunteered full-time for the 2008 Obama Campaign and then was a staffer for a couple of other campaigns. In 2012, I was the state Native American vote director for President Obama’s reelection.”
Haaland ran for Lieutenant Governor in 2014 but lost the election. However, she didn’t let the loss discourage her, and in 2015 became the first Native American to chair a state party – the Native American Democratic Caucus of New Mexico.
“In spite of what happened in the rest of the country, we did really well here [in New Mexico],” Haaland said of the 2016 Presidential Election. “When you celebrate those little victories it helps to keep you going.”
Haaland’s tribe, Laguna Pueblo, is a matriarchal society.
“We always follow the line of the women,” she said. “[My mother] was a very strong woman; she and my grandmother were always role models to me. I learned from them that if you want something, you have to work hard for it. Whenever I faced an obstacle [in my career], I never concentrated too hard on it. I was more focused on being successful.”
Haaland believes that the results of the 2016 presidential election were a huge turning point in the way American society responds to political decisions.
“I think since President Trump won [the] election, many women have decided that now is our time,” Haaland said. “Everyday I’m inspired by the activism and enthusiasm of people all over the country. think it’s an exciting time to [work in politics]. It’s exciting to know I may be on the front lines of change.”
Every day I read another story about an activist who inspires me. So many people all over the country unexpectedly stepped up and started using their voice for the first time – myself included.
I saw a picture from one of the Women’s Marches recently that really resonated with me. It read: “Thank you, Donald Trump, for making me an activist.”
Most, regardless of personal political affiliation, can agree that Trump’s victory has brought about a significant change in this country. The 2016 election seems to have increased the general public’s interest in current governmental events. The subject of politics is no longer a passive conversation in this county. Trump’s victory has, in a way, amplified the voices of so many Americans and people are starting to understand the value of their vote.
As a Native American woman in the political spotlight, Haaland is fully aware of the impact she has personally made, especially in regards to the future of this country. It’s important to Haaland to represent and educate the younger generations who are not yet able to vote.
“When there are children who are looking at you as a role model, it puts a tremendous responsibility on your shoulders,” Haaland said. “To be a good role model means to make sure you are everything that you would want those young people to grow up to be.”
“I’m a single mom,” she continued. “My daughter, Somah, graduated from [the University of New Mexico] last year. I look at these children as if they were my daughter and I want to do everything as well as I can for them.”
Haaland offers sound advice to young Americans: “Get involved and do not be afraid. You’re never too young to go to a campaign office and volunteer. Ask your parents to take you to a rally. Ask your parents to take you to the community homeless shelters so you can help out. Just get involved with the people [who are affected in different ways] so that you know what it’s like for them. Nowadays, we look at our leaders and we realize that they’ve never had to struggle.”
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