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ASU Lecture Highlights the Native American Vote, Political Influence in Indian Country

Independent journalist and journalism professor Mark Trahant speaks at the First Amendment Forum at Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communications.

If you’re curious about Native American candidates running for state or national office, look to journalist and educator Mark Trahant first, because more than likely he has already written about them.

Trahant (Shoshone-Bannock) is a veteran journalist who has covered Indian Country extensively for years. Most recently, he has focused on state and federal Native American candidates running for office and the importance of the Native American vote.

Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota and is often a guest speaker across the country. He’s also well known on social media for his blog, “Trahant Reports.”

On October 3, Trahant examined the growing impact of Native Americans on U.S. politics as part of the First Amendment Forum at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communications in downtown Phoenix.

“So often the stories about Indian Country chronicle the challenges,” Trahant said. “So for me tonight, it’s really wonderful to talk about some of the success stories out there. No matter what happens in this election, this already has been a successful election.”

In the U.S. Congress, only two elected officials identify as Native Americans. Both are members of the U.S. House of Representatives and both represent Oklahoma: Tom Cole (Chickasaw) and Markwayne Mullin (Cherokee).

That number could potentially increase (or decrease) come November. Cole and Mullin are seeking another term. Denise Juneau (Mandan/Hidatsa/Arikara) is running for Montana’s only House seat. Chase Iron Eyes (Standing Rock Sioux) is attempting to do the same in North Dakota. Joe Pakootas (Colville Confederated Tribes) is running for Washington’s Fifth District.

If they are elected, especially Juneau and Iron Eyes, it will be because of the Native American vote, Trahant said.

“Montana is having a moment that is really amazing,” Trahant said. “When someone tells you your vote doesn’t matter, just answer ‘Montana.’ American Indians are registered to vote and turn out at a higher rate in Montana than any other ethnic group.”

But if voters are wondering if or when the country will ever have a Native American in the White House, look to state legislatures, Trahant said. Seventy-three Native Americans, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians hold seats in 19 state legislatures across the country.

“I like to think of the legislatures as [where to look] if you want to know who will be Indian Country’s Barack Obama,” he said. “She’s probably already elected to state office. This is important for several reasons. We know [it’s] the source of talent for higher office. It was only 1996 when Barack Obama was elected to the Illinois state legislature.”

Obama, of course, went on to be elected U.S. president in 2008, four years after first being elected as a U.S. senator.

So who will be the first Native American president?

“Look to the states,” Trahant said. “Her name will be Peggy, Paulette or Wenona.”

Peggy Flanagan (Ojibwe) is a member of the Minnesota House of Representatives and was the first Native American woman to address the Democratic National Convention. Paulette Jordan (Coeur d’Alene) is a member of the Idaho House of Representatives, and Wenona Benally (Navajo) is running for District 7 state representative in Arizona.