Rep. Deb Haaland (D-New Mexico), left, and Rep. Sharice Davids (D-Kansas) celebrate at a reception in Washington, D.C., after being sworn into the 116th Congress on January 3, 2019. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

To Deb and Sharice: 'Ten Ways to Indigenize Congress'

By Acee Agoyo

WAHINGTON, D.C. -- As the first two Native women get to work in the 116th Congress, they will always have a reminder of the Indigenous people who helped get them elected and who are supporting them from all around the country.

The Native American Democratic Caucus of New Mexico first presented Deb Haaland with a list of "Ten Ways to Indigenize Congress" during a traditional Pueblo feast here on Wednesday afternoon. A copy was also given to Sharice Davids at a separate reception on Thursday evening.

The list was the brainchild of the tribal citizens who helped Haaland win her election in New Mexico's 1st Congressional District last November. Charlotte Little, who hails from the Pueblo of San Felipe, said supporters started coming up with suggestions on that historic night.

"While we were there, we got started on this idea about 'Indigenizing' Congress," recalled Little, who serves as the administrator for her tribal nation.

"We all jumped in" with items for the list, Little said on Wednesday. The thinking was: "We need to know that Native people are in the house."

A day later, Haaland and Davids were indeed in the house -- the U.S. House of Representatives, that is. And, as the Native supporters had envisioned a few months ago, they were already 'Indigenizing' the legislative branch of the federal government in their own unique ways.

Haaland, a citizen of the Pueblo of Laguna, wore traditional Pueblo clothing as she was sworn into her seat in New Mexico's 1st Congressional District with her mother, daughter and family members at her side. The entourage included four children from Laguna.

Davids, a citizen of the Ho-Chunk Nation, brought her Ho-Chunk mother, who was a frequent presence on the campaign trail, to the forefront as she entered her new role as representative for the 3rd Congressional District in Kansas.

The two also shared a widely-seen moment on the floor of the House. After being administered the oath of office, they exchanged a long embrace and Haaland emerged in tears. She wiped them away with Davids' scarf. They embraced again.

"My scarf is your scarf. Today’s history is our history," Davids wrote on Twitter.

During a reception later in the evening, the pair celebrated together, arm in arm, as they were honored by a large crowd of tribal dignitaries, tribal citizens and other supporters. Many traveled from all regions of Indian Country for the historic occasion.

"It’s a good day to be Indigenous, isn't it?" Haaland said to cheers at a hotel close to the U.S. Capitol, sharing the final mantra of the "Ten Ways" list.

The List: Ten Ways to Indigenize Congress
1. Always acknowledge Indigenous homelands that you are standing on

2. Always open Congress with cedar, sweetgrass or sage

3. Always open Congress with a blessing

4. Talk about the survival and existence of Indigenous People as much as possible

5. Teach Congress to use the correct name of every tribal nation

6. Teach Congress that “Indigenous” and “Native American” are acceptable terms to be used when discussing Indigenous People

7. Teach Congress how to cut words the right way — Okay den, Aaaaaaayee!

8. Teach Congress that is respectful to reserve seats with a Pendleton blanket

9. Teach Congress that it is more polite and acceptable to point with lips than with fingers

10. Always remember that every day is a good day to be Indigenous

Join the Conversation

Related Stories
Recap: Indian Country celebrates Sharice Davids and Deb Haaland (January 4, 2019)
Recap: Pueblo women host traditional feast for Deb Haaland (January 4, 2019)