When Rep. Mary Peltola took the oath of office last week, a demographic milestone was achieved not just for Alaska Natives, but for Indigenous Americans in general. For the first time in the history of Congress, the nation's Indigenous people are represented—by a Native American, an Alaska Native, and a Native Hawaiian. Lani Teves, an associate professor at the University of Hawai'i, called the moment historic. "Having different Indigenous communities represented shows the growing power of Native people across the United States and across the world," Teves told NPR.
Hawaii Rep. Kaiali'i Kahele pointed the change out on Twitter, posting a photo of him with Peltola and Rep. Sharice Davids of Kansas, a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation. "It has taken 233 years for the US Congress to be fully represented by this country's indigenous peoples," Kahele wrote. "Tonight, a Native American, a Native Alaskan & a Native Hawaiian are sitting members of the people's House." There are now six Indigenous representatives. Peltola won a special election last month to serve the remainder of the late Rep. Don Young's term.
Not only do people of all backgrounds need congressional representation, Teves said, "young people need to see people that look like themselves, that come from their communities" in office. Those members might try to ensure issues that are a priority of Indigenous communities, such as violence against Native women, receive more attention. "I think it represents just a growing movement of Indigenous resurgence and awareness of injustices and a desire to, not just make right on the past, but have our voices be heard," Teves said. (Read more Indigenous peoples stories.)