Today, I witnessed history. Congratulations Ruth Anna Buffalo elected to serve and lead in the ND State Legislature House of Representatives! || Lea Black Photography

Posted by Lea Black on Monday, December 3, 2018
Ruth Ann Buffalo, a citizen of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, wore traditional clothing as she was sworn into the North Dakota Legislature on December 3, 2018. She is representing House District 27. Photo: Lea Black / Lea Black Photography

Elizabeth Cook-Lynn: Will Native women be able to solve our political problems?

Women take higher positions in political world
By Professor Elizabeth Cook-Lynn
Native Sun News Today Columnist

According to recent local and national gatherings of NOW (the National Organization of Women) we are told that female legislators and women officials are taking major positions to higher office and are showing the political world that a new time is coming. Isn’t that what Oprah Winfrey said in a recent speech?

The reality is, the numbers are changing right here in our midst, for Native women here in our state. The other day, during the Lakota Nation Invitational tournament, the directors of an art complex, The Racing Magpie, introduced three newly elected Sioux Indian women to political office, and it was a celebration!

This means that young Native women have been elected to the state, tribal, local governing offices in western states in the Northern Plains in astounding numbers, and we are forcing ourselves to ask new questions.

Can we make a difference? Will these newly emerging Native women be more likely to give priority to “traditional women’s issues?” Will their political behavior be significantly different from the political behavior of men?

Or, more significantly, will their political behavior be different from that of non-native political women? And powerful white men? How will policy toward all of us be changed?

Studies must be done, one supposes, and that will take a while because as far as I know, there has been no recent collection of data on such questions for at least a decade. Brief surveys have been done and they have suggested that a clear majority of tribal members across the country have believed, disappointingly, that politics is not a method for solving social problems.

As a political writer myself, and as a scholar who has spent the last thirty years writing political curricular designs for the development of Native American studies as an academic discipline, that is the bad news.

I would suggest that there seems to be little local knowledge on how native women conceptualize politics. Most seem to agree that politics is an arena of competition. They feel that there is less agreement on whether politics is a method of improving the quality of life of tribal members. That is not to say that there is not a lot of “lip service” given to the latter.

Though one must be careful in generalizing, a profile of a typical Indian woman leader is that she is (at the youngest) 33 years of age, and (at the oldest) 79. She is college educated, married and has 0-2 children or from 0 to 10.


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