One of the most notable newcomers to emerge in the groundbreaking November 2018 midterm elections is U.S. House of Representatives freshman Democrat, Debra Haaland. Deb, who represents New Mexico’s 1st district, is (along with Sharice Davids) one of the first two Native American women to serve in Congress.
She is also multiracial! Congresswoman Haaland’s father, J.D. “Dutch” Haaland was Norwegian-American and her mother, Mary Toya, Laguna of Pueblo. Haaland is an enrolled member of the Pueblo of Laguna tribe and identifies as a 35th-generation New Mexican.
Both of Haaland’s parents served in the US military, her dad in the Marines and her mom in the Navy. Like many military kids, Deb and her four siblings grew up living all around the United States. Her father served in the Marines during Vietnam and was awarded a Silver Star Medal as a hero who saved the lives of some of his fellow Marines. He is buried with full military honors in the famed Arlington National Cemetery. The diverse experiences she had growing up in various locations across the country and sometimes on a Native American reservation, and other times in a boxcar in Arizona, gave her insight and perspectives on the country’s strengths and challenges that have prepared her to serve her Native American community, her state and the country as a whole.
Her election victory is even more meaningful in light of where she comes from. New Mexico was the last state to enfranchise Native Americans, not granting the right to vote to Native Americans until 1962.
“Seventy years ago, Native Americans right here in New Mexico couldn’t vote,” Haaland told supporters at a recent rally. “Growing up in my mother’s pueblo household and as a 35th generation New Mexican, I never imagined a world where I would be represented by someone who looks like me.”
Haaland has a progressive platform and is setting out to focus on issues that effect Native Americans. Violence against women, environmental issues, education and healthcare are a few of her top priorities. She has already been vocal about immigration issues and her opposition to the racially charged remarks made by President Trump about presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren.
When Trump referenced the Wounded Knee massacre of 1890 as a stab at Warren, Haaland responded, “That was such a dark part of American history. Over 300 men, women and children were killed, and it’s nothing to joke about. He just has the worst, worst, worst taste. Doesn’t know our history. It was appalling.”
Before running for Congress, Deb worked on dozens of local and state campaigns. She also worked on Barack Obama’s re-election campaign and served as chair of New Mexico’s Democratic Party. She has done great work to mobilize underrepresented people to vote.
Haaland majored in English at the University of New Mexico and later went to UNM law school. Deb is a single mom to a 24 year old daughter, Somah. Rather than pursuing a traditional 9-5 job, she started her own business producing salsa in 1995 so that she could support herself and Somah, and not need to put Somah in day care. Somah has become a young political activist herself. When she has time for hobbies, Deb enjoys gourmet cooking and running marathons.
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Photo Credit: Albuquerque Journal