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Power to the Polls

The Candidate Who Plans to Be the First Native American Woman in Congress

“I just felt like my voice—considering the fact that we've never had a Native American woman in Congress—might be a voice at the table that Congress has never heard," says Deb Haaland.

Leila Ettachfini

Leila Ettachfini

Image courtesy of Deb Haaland

In honor of the Women’s March and their “Power to the Polls” initiative, we're highlighting progressive women and nonbinary candidates on the 2018 ballot. You can read more of their stories here.

Deb Haaland is running for a seat in Congress representing New Mexico’s District 1. She’s also an enrolled member of the Pueblo of Laguna. If she wins, she’ll be the first indigenous woman in Congress in US history—and reaching that milestone is one of the main motivators behind her campaign.

“I just felt like my voice—considering the fact that we've never had a Native American woman in Congress—might be a voice at the table that Congress has never heard,” she tells Broadly, “I could bring something significant to decision making.”

Haaland is not new to such firsts. In 2015, she was elected as the chair of New Mexico’s Democratic Party and subsequently became the first Native American woman in the US to chair a state party. Immediately after finishing her term as state chair in April of last year, she announced her decision to run for a seat in the US House of Representatives. The decision came after current representative Michelle Lujan Grisham announced that she would be running for governor of New Mexico come 2018, instead of seeking reelection.

While serving as New Mexico’s Democratic Party Chairwoman, Haaland led the party through several victories: they increased their seats in the Senate, won two out of three statewide elections, and made New Mexico one of only two states to flip their state house blue. These victories, she says, came partly because she encouraged New Mexicans to hold Trump and the GOP accountable for their actions. If she could do it with her state party, why not try to do the same in Congress?

“I always feel like whatever I'm doing is to move New Mexico forward,” she says. “I felt like we needed more women of color. The seat was open, [so] I asked myself if I thought I could win, and I felt that I had worked a long time here in the state and felt I could get together a good campaign.”

Her agenda for moving New Mexico forward is impressive, if ambitious. The list includes combating climate change while creating new jobs through clean energy, legalizing marijuana, protecting women’s right to choose what happens to their bodies, fighting for universal health care, approaching immigration policy with humanity, and bettering support for veterans.

“I'm ready to go and fight for New Mexicans, for the American people, for Indian tribes, for us all."

Haaland was born to a military family. Her father, buried at Arlington National Cemetery, was serving in the Marine Corps when he met Haaland’s mother, a member of the Navy, while they were both stationed at Treasure Island. As a result, Haaland moved around frequently as a child and endured long periods of time away from her parents. She’s promised to be a voice for veterans in Congress if elected.

Interestingly, she believes that responsibly legalizing marijuana is part of that. “I think the VA hospital should be able to prescribe cannabis to a veteran who requests it,” she says. “I've spoken to many veterans who are victims, like so many other people, of the opioid crisis, and I've had veterans tell me that they really would like for the VA hospital to be able to prescribe cannabis for their pain, for their PTSD, for their medical issues.”

When it comes to other medical issues, like abortion and birth control access, Haaland wants to see less government interference. “Abortion is legal in this country and I feel very strongly that the government has no place in any decision-making that women have to do with their own bodies,” she says.

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Haaland is a single mother to one daughter, Somah, a recent graduate from the University of New Mexico. Last year, she made it out to DC for the Women’s March on Washington. Though she’d already decided to run for Congress prior to the trip, she says the experience was inspiring and solidified her commitment to advocating for women. “I owe a debt of gratitude to the women that came before me who protected those things for me,” she says. “When I think about the women who were battered and thrown in jail and killed just for women's right to vote, it makes me just want to work harder and harder everyday.”

Haaland admits that the Trump administration continues to sink to new lows—whether they are insulting women, throwing racial slurs at Navajo veterans, or ridding 9 million children of health insurance. Though she’s been quick to publicly criticize them, Haaland says she’s not discouraged by our current political climate. In fact, she’s motivated by it. “I'm ready to go and fight for New Mexicans, for the American people, for Indian tribes, for us all,” she says. “I'm ready to make that happen.”