Mary Peltola responded to her win on the 31st of August with a tweet reading ‘Tonight, we’ve shown that we can win as a campaign that is pro-choice, pro-fish, pro-worker, and pro-Alaska.’ At 49, she is not only the first Alaskan native to be elected to Congress, but the state’s first woman – winning Alaska’s only US house seat.
As an indigenous woman, her position as a political voice garners prospect for native priorities to be heard and acted upon. Defined by her refreshingly amiable approach to political interactions, Peltola has made a name for herself as a candidate leading with kindness. Relations between her and her opponent, Republican Sarah Palin, date back to when they were both serving at the statehouse where the two bonded over being pregnant at the same time. The respect with which this recent political race has been conducted showcases the somewhat rarity of mutual support in places of power.
Harkening from the Yup’ik tribe in the Yukon-Kuskokwim delta, Peltola has a long history of actively participating in the fight for Native Alaskan recognition and resistance. From the age of six she joined her father who worked in the commercial fishing industry; a vital industry for many Native Alaskans who rely on sustained fish stocks for both economic stability and subsistence living. For the last decade she has held a senior position with the Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission that endeavors to protect the salmon vital to indigenous survival. This is a mission that is evidently continued in Peltola’s ads, criticizing the depletion of the seas by Russian and Chinese trawlers. Spotlighting Alaska’s delicate and diverse ecosystems, through focus on much-needed pro-climate policies, Peltola provides a favorable outlook for the interlinked future of nature and native people.
Despite the disenfranchisement of many First Nation voters throughout North America, there is increasingly notable political success for Native candidates. The 2020 US election saw ground-breaking Native voter turnout in Arizona and Wisconsin, having an impactful sway and acting as a reminder to many of the political power of the First Nations. Carol Davis, the Diné (Navajo) director of CARE (Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment) remarked: “People need to start paying attention to not only the Navajo votes but across the board nationally’’.
Currently, there are six Native American politicians serving in Congress, one of whom is Deb Haaland, Interior Secretary for New Mexico. Being 35th generation New Mexican, Haaland’s journey into the political sphere was one defined by the resilience of a single-mother facing housing insecurity and a personal fight for sobriety. Stemming from strong matriarchal lineage, Haaland’s character speaks for itself in her life-story; from setting up a salsa business to help finance her education to completing law school as the primary carer for her child.
Haaland’s dedication to Native American justice is visible in her newly initiated ‘Road to Healing’ tour. Created with the intention of providing a safe space of support, the tour aims to aid those recovering from the generational-trauma caused by the federal boarding school system. This is part of Haaland’s wide-spread investigation into the dark, colonial legacy of settler crimes.
This overdue increase in political indigenous representation is a movement also seen in Chile’s recent constitution vote. Last month 154 delegates working on a new constitution incited after the October protests of 2019; which in early September received an anticipated rejection by voters. María Elisa Quinteros, head of the constituent assembly, described the finished product as “an ecological and equal constitution with social rights at its very core”. Yet the downfall of the radically progressive document was its overwhelming 338 clauses, along with the high-levels of misinformation flooding the media. Without particular specification in language, political figures in opposition to the new post-Pinochet constitution, have been able to make claims that the document would allow abortion up until the ninth month.
The constitution would have demanded gender parity in ministerial and state positions as well as political recognition for the 13 percent of Chile’s population who are indigenous. The radical act, to also include the right of nature to be respected and protected, would have had a monumentally positive impact on indigenous communities as well as generating a decolonial example for other nations. As the world’s largest copper producer, the idea of disabling the destructive extraction process led to criticism from the sector of society that reaps the economic benefits of Chile’s natural resources.
Despite this loss, the predictions for those against were lower than those in reality. With 80% of Chileans voting for constitutional change in October 2020 it is clear the conversation surrounding a new nuanced constitution is far from over. These divisive topics have proved too much for the Chilean general public of today, yet Gabriel Boric seems hopeful in moving forward with another draft, remarking ‘We have to listen to the voice of the people’. Within itself, the act of rebuilding the constitution with a focused spotlight on indigenous people continues the overall trend of increasing Native representation throughout the Americas.
Emily Dickinson-Holdcroft for Times Media Mexico
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