Celebrating the Native Voice in the 2020 Elections

The 2020 elections were one for the history books, with more than two-thirds of registered voters in the U.S. coming out to make their voices heard. For as long as these elections have been held, the Native vote and representation in the political sphere has been minimal. However, the 2020 election was a different story, with many wins for Indian Country.

Native American voter turnout made a significant impact in several states. For example, in Arizona over 60,000 Native votes were counted from just two of the 21 tribes in the state. It is also possible that the high turnout of Native voters swung the state of Wisconsin too. All this goes to show that our Native voices do count.

The 2020 elections were also marked with 14 Native American candidates running for seats at the national level. Two were newly elected to the House of Representatives – Rep. Kai Kahele (Hawaiian, Dem.) and Rep. Yvette Herrell (Cherokee, Rep.). Four Native incumbents kept their seats – Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo),  Sharice Davids (Ho-Chunk), Tom Cole (Chickasaw) and Markwayne Mullin (Cherokee), bringing the total Native representation to six members at the national level. Numerous Native candidates also won elections at the state and local levels.

President-Elect Joe Biden, whose inauguration is tomorrow (Jan. 20), has since appointed Congresswoman Deb Haaland as Secretary of the Interior – the first Native cabinet secretary with power to create change. About her new responsibility for the country’s land and natural resources, Haaland said, “I’ll be fierce for all of us, for our planet and all of our protected land.”

Haaland also acknowledged, “This moment is profound when we consider the fact that a former secretary of the interior [Alexander H.H. Stuart of the 1850s Fillmore administration] once proclaimed it his goal to, quote, ‘civilize or exterminate’ us.”

From within our tribal communities, in the face of disparities, broken treaties and systemic oppression, it can be hard to feel like Native votes and voices matter. Yet, when we come together to make our voices heard and needs known, we see more power to create change than we ever imagined. While Native Americans are often a forgotten minority, we came out in numbers in 2020 that made a difference. Let’s make 2021 historic too.

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