Native Business Publishers Gary and Carmen Davis with Rep. Deb Haaland, D-New Mexico, at today’s swearing-in ceremony for the new Congress in Washington D.C. (Native Business)
Today, two Native American women made history. Rep. Sharice Davids, D-Kansas, and Rep. Deb Haaland, D-New Mexico, were sworn into the 116th Congress at noon. The new faces of the Democratic Party represent a significant milestone in American politics—as the first Native American women elected to Congress, and among merely 300 representatives of Native American descent out of approximately 12,000 total Congress members elected since 1789.
To put their appointments in perspective, the United States government didn’t grant citizenship to Native Americans until 1924, and Haaland’s home state of New Mexico was the final state to grant Natives the right to vote in 1962.
Prior to taking office on the Hill, both leaders have made their agendas clear.
Sharice Davids, a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation, was sworn in to represent Kansas’ 3rd Congressional District, home to more than 670,000 people and the economic heart of the state.
An attorney and former mixed martial artist, Davids earned her law degree from Cornell Law School and began her legal career at an international law firm as a corporate transactional attorney focused on mergers and acquisitions and Indian law deals. She went on to serve as the Deputy Director of Thunder Valley CDC in Porcupine, South Dakota, on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, where she managed operations, acted as in-house legal counsel, and laid the foundation for a social enterprise program. She recently served as a White House Fellow during the Obama-Trump transition.
Davids campaigned on an economic platform that included a tax cut for the middle class, incentivizing health care benefits for small businesses, and creating a childcare tax credit. An advocate for addressing climate change, she considers Kansas uniquely poised to capitalize on wind energy. She has supported tax incentives that promote wind and similar energy sources.
In her new role, Rep. Davids has said she will prioritize economic and community development in Native communities.
Davids also recently told MSNBC that the United States will gain a better understanding of Native American issues and priorities with her and Rep. Haaland on the Hill. “Congresswoman Haaland and I will… raise awareness and opportunity to share the historical aspects and how Native communities are experiencing life today in the modern era. I think not enough people understand Native communities and the federal-tribal government relationship that exists. …We are going to see a new era of information, understanding and change,” she told Morning Joe during a live interview.
Rep. Deb Haaland, D-New Mexico, a member of the Pueblo of Laguna, will organize her colleagues on issues relevant to New Mexico and Indian Country.
Haaland was the first Chairwoman elected to the Laguna Development Corporation Board of Directors, overseeing business operations of the second largest tribal gaming enterprise in New Mexico. She successfully advocated for the Laguna Development Corporation to make policies and commitments to earth-friendly business practices.
Haaland has professed her commitment to make climate change a priority, including embracing renewable energy and resource efficiency, and to address economic inequality.
On DebforCongress.com, she states:
“I’ll also fight with everything I have for a national public infrastructure bill that creates millions of jobs and rebuilds America’s crumbling roads, parks, bridges, energy, schools, and technology infrastructure. This bill should include massive investment in updating America’s energy grid to prepare us for 100% renewable energy, and millions of good union jobs that include living wages, full benefits, and fair scheduling. Infrastructure improvements should be especially targeted towards poor, black, and brown communities who have been historically neglected by our government.”
Haaland has also promised she’ll fight for the U.S. government to fund critical Indian programs—for housing, education, health care, sovereignty, self-determination and safety—under the government’s legal trust responsibility to Indian Country. In an opinion piece penned for The Hill, a non-partisan policy and political media outlet, she wrote: “When the historic members of our new congressional class take office in January, our bold policy agenda will make sure no one is left behind.”