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Native candidates fare poorly in three Congressional challenges






Chase Iron Eyes, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Photo from Facebook

Native candidates for U.S. Congress fared poorly on Election Day, with all three challengers easily losing to Republican incumbents at the ballot boxes.

In North Dakota, Chase Iron Eyes, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, won just 24 percent of the vote in his bid for the state's sole Congressional seat. Rep. Kevin Cramer (R), an outspoken defender of the Dakota Access Pipeline, secured nearly 69 percent, according to unofficial results from the Secretary of State.

"We don't take defeat lying down," Iron Eyes said late Tuesday night as he disclosed plans to run again in 2018. "We don't stay down. We bounce right back up and that's a true measure of our campaign, of our party."

In neighboring Montana, Denise Juneau, a member of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, came up short in her bid to become the first Native woman in Congress. She secured 39 percent of the vote as Rep. Ryan Zinke (R) walked away with 57 percent, according to the Secretary of State.


Denise Juneau, a member of the Mandan Hidatsa and Arikara Nation and a descendant of the Blackfeet Nation. Photo from Facebook

"This campaign could not have happened without your support," Juneau said in a concession speech on Tuesday night, with her parents and her partner by her side.

Over in Washington, Joe Pakootas, a member of the Colville Tribes, was unable to oust an incumbent in the 5th Congressional district. He won nearly 42 percent of the vote, compared to 58 percent for Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R), who is the highest-ranking Republican woman in Congress.

The losses mean that only two tribal citizens are due to return to Capitol Hill in 2017 and both happen to be Republicans. In Oklahoma, Rep. Tom Cole (R), a member of the Chickasaw Nation, and Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R), a member of the Cherokee Nation, easily won their re-election bids.

Neither candidate faced serious challenges and both stood behind Donald Trump even as other members of their party stepped away from the controversial nominee. Mullin even served as chair of Trump's new Native American Coalition and represented the Trump campaign during a visit to the Navajo Nation last Friday.


Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Oklahoma), a member of the Cherokee Nation, with Navajo Code Talker Fleming Begaye Sr., in Shiprock, New Mexico, on November 4, 2016. Mullin serves as chair and Begaye serves as honorary chair of Republican Donald Trump's Native American Coalition. Photo from Facebook

Cole and Mullin will rejoin the 115th Congress, which remains under Republican control. Democrats tried but were unable to win majorities in both the House and the Senate.

Sen. John McCain (R) also will be returning to office after facing what he said was the toughest challenge of his political career. According to the results in Arizona, Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D) won just 41 percent of the vote, compared to 53 percent for the former two-term chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

"I’m as grateful to you tonight as I was when you first elected me. Thank you, one last time, for making me the luckiest guy I know," McCain said on Tuesday night.

In the history of the United States, Congress has only seen a few tribal citizens secure elective office. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, a member of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, who won three terms in the House and two in the Senate, is the only one in modern times to have served in the Senate. He retired from public service in 2004.

Tom Cole first won election in 2002 and for a short period served alongside Brad Carson, a member of the Cherokee Nation who later was unsuccessful in winning a Senate seat in Oklahoma. Carson for a while held a high-ranking position within the Department of Defense during the Obama administration.

Cole is well respected among Republicans and is known for advancing tribal issues within the party. He also frequently works with Democrats to help pass key bills like the Violence Against Women Act, which recognizes the "inherent" authority of tribes to arrest, prosecute and try non-Indians who abuse their domestic partners.

Markwyne Mullin first won office in 2012. He won a second term in 2014 and secured his third victory on Tuesday. He voted against VAWA in 2013.

"I am honored, humbled, and grateful for the trust and confidence Oklahomans in the 2nd District have placed in me to represent their interests in Congress," Mullin said on Facebook after his win. "Together we will bring Oklahoma values to Washington."