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Georgene Louis. Courtesy photo
Tribes endorse Georgene Louis in bid for Deb Haaland’s seat in Congress
Wednesday, March 3, 2021
Indianz.Com

With Rep. Deb Haaland (D-New Mexico) inching toward confirmation as Secretary of the Interior, tribal nations are turning their attention is turning to the seat she would be vacating in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Georgene Louis, a state lawmaker and citizen of the Pueblo of Acoma, has announced her bid to represent New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District. Her campaign has the backing of leaders from some of the largest tribes in the U.S., including the Navajo Nation.

In a resolution co-signed by Vice President Myron Lizer of the Navajo Nation, the Coalition of Large Tribes said “Georgene Louis will strengthen the relationship between tribes and states not only in New Mexico but throughout the United States and will continue the historic endorsement of sending a Native American Indian to Congress.”

Louis, an attorney who previously worked as general counsel at Acoma, has served in the New Mexico Legislature since 2013. She represents District 26 near Albuquerque, the most populous city in the state.

In touting her tribal endorsement, she acknowledged the landmark nature of her efforts to succeed Haaland, a fellow Pueblo woman leader.

“As a proud member of the Pueblo of Acoma, I’m so grateful to have gained some exciting support this week from the Coalition of Large Tribes,” Louis said on Wednesday.

“If I’m fortunate enough to become the newest Congresswoman from New Mexico, I will fight every day to build off the important work of Congresswoman Haaland, serve as an effective Native voice in Congress, and deliver on the issues important to our communities,” Louis added.

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Haaland, who hails from the Pueblo of Laguna, made history in November 2018 by becoming one of the first two Native women to win election to Congress. She easily won a second term in office last November, along with Sharice Davids, a citizen of the Ho-Chunk Nation who represents the 3rd Congressional District in Kansas. Both are Democrats.

Haaland is set to break barriers yet again by joining President Joe Biden’s Cabinet. Should she be confirmed for the Department of the Interior, she would be the first Native person to lead the federal agency with the most trust and treaty responsibilities in Indian Country.

The achievement opens the door to a special election in New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District. Under state law, the vote would take place within three months of the seat being declared vacant.

But unlike most elections, there will not be a primary. Instead, the Democratic and Republican parties will choose their respective candidates for the seat. Independents and write-ins can also seek to appear on the ballot.

So far, the field is a crowded one. On the Democratic side, at least eight are seeking their party’s nomination.

Louis and Patricia Roybal Caballero, a fellow state lawmaker who comes from the Pueblo of Guadalupe, a non-recognized tribe, are the only Native candidates.

As for Republicans, at least five are in the running. But Michelle Garcia Holmes, a retired police detective who was unsuccessful in her bid to unseat Haaland last year, is not among those seeking the GOP’s nomination for the seat.

A Democrat has held New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District since 2009. Voters in the district have reliably supported the Democratic presidential candidate since 2000, with Joe Biden defeating Republican Donald Trump by a whopping 23 percentage points in November.

About 3.5 percent of the district is American Indian or Alaska Native. They also account for 4.7 percent of the population in Albuquerque, which has long been home to citizens of Pueblo and Navajo tribes, along with other urban Indians.

Louis has taken a prominent role in advancing tribal issues in the New Mexico Legislature. The Coalition of Large Tribes resolution cites her efforts to address the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women, protect Native voting rights, preserve Native languages and support Native education as her accomplishments.

“Georgene’s leadership speaks for itself,” said Governor Brian Vallo of the Pueblo of Acoma, in his endorsement of Louis. “She has really added significantly to this movement of empowerment and leadership of women in these levels of government.”

Besides the Navajo Nation, the Coalition of Large Tribes includes the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, the Oglala Sioux Tribe, the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate, the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, the Blackfeet Nation, the Fort Belknap Indian Community, the Crow Nation, the Spokane Tribe, the Ute Tribe, the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and the Eastern Shoshone Tribe.

“The Coalition of Large Tribes is honored to support Georgene Louis, a Native seeking the seat for New Mexico’s first Congressional District, as we once did with Congresswoman Haaland,” said O.J. Semans Sr., a Rosebud citizen who serves as executive director of the organization. “The President of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, who is the Vice President on our executive board, worked with Georgene on Native issues and knew it was necessary to endorse such an amazing leader.”

Lizer serves as secretary of COLT. He attested the tribal resolution with Mark Fox, the president of the organization and chairman of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation.

Haaland went before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee last week for her confirmation hearing to be Secretary of the Interior. She spent two days answering questions, with Democrats supporting her historic nomination and promoting her record in securing bipartisan legislation in Congress. Republicans, on the other hand, complained about her positions in favor of developing policies that address the concerns of Indian Country.

“This is all of our country. This is our mother,” Haaland said last Wednesday, the final day of her hearing.

“It’s difficult to not feel obligated to protect this land,” Haaland added. “I feel like every Indigenous person in this country understands this.”

The committee is meeting on Thursday morning to consider Haaland’s nomination. With the support of Sen. Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia), the chairman of the legislative panel, she is slated to be advanced to the U.S. Senate for a final vote in the coming weeks.