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IndigiPolitics: Native vote 2024


Pauly Denetclaw
ICT

LAS VEGAS — A decade ago, ICT editor-at-large Mark Trahant asked a simple question to the National Council of State Legislatures: How many Native Americans are serving in state legislatures?

They didn’t know the answer.

“At that point, I realized we needed to start measuring where people were, and what they were doing, and then use that as a base to measure what success looks like,” Trahant said during ICT’s Native Vote 2024 panel at this year’s Reservation Economic Summit.

So Trahant started a database to track Native Americans and Alaska Natives who held local, state and federal seats.

“I would write about somebody and immediately I’d hear from somebody else saying, have you thought about blank, and the list grew very quickly and became pretty comprehensive quickly,” Trahant said. “We still have so much more work to do. We have really good data on congressional, judicial, some other races, but there’s just so many races that we need to be able to put down in writing. So, we can measure. School boards, for example.”

These are the roots of ICT’s Indigenous Candidate Database. A database I managed during the 2022 midterm election. I became an expert in how many candidates were running for office in each state. I could recite the numbers with ease.

For another election year, alongside our partners at Advance Native Political Leadership, we are again tracking Indigenous candidates running for local, state and federal elections.

ICT’s database can be found here. Thanks to the work of ICT reporter Kalle Benallie and Advance Native Political Leadership we’re able to track 140 Indigenous candidates running for office this election year. Please let us know if there are any candidates missing by emailing me at pauly@ictnews.org.

Native vote 2024 by the numbers:

  • 140 Indigenous candidates running for public office in 22 states in 2024 as of May 13
  • 12 candidates are running for Congress
  • 58 percent of the candidates this election cycle identify as women
  • 40 percent identify as men
  • 2 percent identify as Two Spirit or nonbinary
  • 93 Democrats; 27 Republicans; and 20 Independent or Nonpartisan
  • 6 of the candidates are graduates of Advance Native Political Leadership’s Native Leadership Institute

Candidates running for Congress

  • U.S. Rep. Mary Peltola, Yup’ik, Alaska At-Large District
  • Jonathan Nez, Diné, Arizona 2nd District
  • Charlene Nijmeh, Muwekma Ohlone, California 18th District
  • U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids, Ho-Chunk, Kansas 3rd District
  • Adam Hollier, Muscogee descent, Michigan 13th District
  • Charles Walking Child, Anishinaabe, Cree and Blackfeet, Montana U.S. Senate
  • Sharon Clahchischilliage, Diné, New Mexico 3rd District
  • Yvette Herrell, Cherokee, New Mexico 2nd District
  • Madison Horn, Cherokee, Oklahoma 5th District
  • U.S. Rep. Josh Brecheen, Choctaw, Oklahoma 2nd District
  • U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, Chickasaw, Oklahoma 4th District
  • Dennis Baker, Muscogee and Euchee, Oklahoma 1st District

There are 340 Indigenous people serving in public office and not running for election this cycle, according to Minnesota Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan who is a White Earth Nation citizen.

“In order to reach parity, we need 17,000 Native elected or appointed (officials) in this country,” said Flanagan, co-founder of Advance Native Political Leadership. “So we have to get to work.

Native Americans, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiians make up 3 percent of the United States population, according to the U.S. Census. There are over half a million elected officials, according to Jennifer Lawless’ 2012 book “Becoming a Candidate.”

This may seem like an unrealistic goal but there are some 10,000 elected tribal officials for 574 federally recognized tribal nations in the United States.

There isn’t a shortage of leadership in Indigenous communities. For example, the Navajo Nation presidential race boasts more than a dozen candidates every election.

Indigenous voters and leaders feel unheard

Throughout my reporting for this year’s election, I’ve been curious to know if Indigenous voters and leaders feel like local, state or federal candidates speak to their issues. The answer time and time again is a resounding no.

I attended the National Congress of American Indians’ Executive Council Winter Session in February where I asked several tribal leaders from across the nation if any of their local, state or federal candidates spoke to any of the issues their nation faced. Again the answer was no.

I often ponder this question, why would anyone vote for someone who didn’t ask for it? Why would any Native voter cast their ballot for a candidate who never, not once, during their campaign speak to the issues that are important to them and their nation?

This is why Flanagan is passionate about helping Indigenous people run for public office.

“I think what Pauly spoke to is why we need to run for office and we need to be in these roles,” Flanagan said. “We can’t wait for people to talk about our issues.”

It wasn’t always like this…

Presidential candidates not addressing or engaging with tribal nations is a recent issue, Trahant said. For example, presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Sr. addressed the National Congress of American Indians.

“That was not that long ago, and the idea that there was a closer relationship between tribes and elected leaders, prior to 1970, was just taken into the grain, and people accepted that,” Trahant said. “That is something that has changed, and it’s not changed for the good.”

This is partly due to the misconception that Native people don’t vote or aren’t engaged in politics, despite overwhelming evidence that the Native vote swings elections. The Native vote in Arizona, helped President Joe Biden win his election in 2020. The Native vote has helped to elect U.S. Reps. Jon Tester in Montana and Mary Peltola in Alaska, plus Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski.

“We have several areas of the country where Native American voters out vote their neighbors, and yet the perception is that we don’t vote,” Trahant said.

The issue could be the news reporting that comes out of Indigenous communities by mainstream, non-Native, news outlets, he added.

“We’re not telling the story of Native excellence often enough,” Trahant said. “Where there’s a narrative of people doing remarkable things, that have happened from the beginning of this country.”

“Yet, the overwhelming narratives have been about destruction, poverty, maybe casinos, rather than some of the really institutional building things that have happened over the country’s history. I think those are really important for people to know because it expands. Once you get the idea that some of these stories are success stories, they start looking for others.”

As we look toward this election, I wonder who, and what these success stories will be. What innovative strategies community organizers will create to engage the Native vote? What other historic’s, first’s, and groundbreaking’s will come to fruition? There’s a little over 180 days until the general election where all of these questions will be answered.

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