Native Women in Congress: Puyallup Tribal Councilwomen on Making History

Native Women in Congress: Puyallup Tribal Councilwomen on Making History


Earlier this month, Puyallup Tribal Councilwomen Anna Bean and Annette Bryan traveled to Washington, D.C., to celebrate the swearing in of the first two Native American women Congress members.

Both councilmembers celebrate what a historic moment this is — and how the swearing in of Rep. Deb Haaland, D-New Mexico (Laguna Pueblo) and Rep. Sharice Davids, D-Kansas (Ho- Chunk) was a big moment for them and their communities. The movement of Native women in of ce continued on a local level when Debra Lekanov (Tlingit) was sworn in to the Washington State Legislature following their visit to D.C.

Bean and Bryan got to spend valuable moments with freshman elect, Deb Haaland. What’s she like? “She’s on re! And she’s ready to go. And she’s ready to ght for us,” Bryan said. Councilwoman Bean elaborated, describing the hope that someone like Senator Haaland gives her, saying she “is everything someone like me aspires to be.” For Native women and girls, this movement is a reminder of real, limitless potential.

The Puyallup councilmembers also got to speak with Sharice Davids during their visit to the Capitol. Councilwoman Bean was most impressed with Davids’ story; how she was raised by a single mother, went to community college, and took four years to get a two-year degree. “She’s so much more relatable to someone like me.” Councilwoman Bryan added how welcoming and humble Senator Davids is, and relayed how Davids tries to imbue the advice she always received from her mother who said, “Make sure people see you, and make sure you see other people. Davids made a point to connect with every person in the room,” observed Bryan.

With meeting the hundreds of people that were there during Bean and Bryan’s two-day trip, they emphasized how exhausted Davids must have been. Surely her training as an elite athlete and MMA ghter helped her through her exhaustion, as she now ghts on behalf of her people. As evidence, Davids made a deliberate effort to connect with every person at the gathering on a “heart-to- heart” level.

For Native women and girls, this movement is a reminder of real, limitless potential.

The election of Davids and Haaland is historic, and means a great deal for Native women across the nation, and within the Puyallup Tribal community. “I was telling the students at Chief Leschi, you guys can be anything you want to be. You can do anything you want to do, and [the Congresswomen] are proof,” said Bryan. “They look like us, they come from reservations like us, and they really did set the bar. I expect to see a Native American president in my lifetime.”

Councilwoman Bean agreed that the election of Davids and Haaland was raising expectations of what Native women can aspire to. “I never thought about heading to Washington [D.C.] myself, but now it has me thinking that maybe that’s somewhere I need to be, too,” Bean said.

Bean and Bryan were most excited to share the experience of traveling to D.C., for this historic moment with each other, and with Native leaders and policy makers from across the nation. This reinvigorated both Councilwomen’s drive to work for their people. “I’ve always had heart in everything that I do, but coming back I feel a little more con dent,” Bean said. “That con dence, and that love that I put into everything that I do, is much greater now after knowing what the possibilities are.”

The trip was primarily an opportunity for Councilwomen Bryan and Bean to network with other leaders throughout Indian Country, as representatives for the Puyallup Tribe. Councilwoman Bryan expressed the honor she felt to be a delegate for the Puyallup Tribe of Indians in Washington, D.C., saying, “It’s always important to remind people that we’re here presently, and that we’re sovereign nations.”

Mostly, Councilwomen Bean and Bryan are excited for what having Native women in Congress means for Natives in a tangible way. Bryan is hoping Davids and Haaland can bring awareness of “who we were and also are, that we are still here, that we are present in the country.” She continued, “they’re speaking from a level so high in the government that people are able to see and hear them.” From this position, Bryan hopes they can bring attention to Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, and help bolster the Violence Against Women Act. “They can bring light to these issues so that we can start to make progress on making reservations a safer place for women, and men and children.” Councilwoman Bean agrees, hoping this leads to progress within Indian Country. “Our issues are going to hit the table so much quicker than they ever have before,” Bean said.

Finally, when Councilwomen Bryan and Bean spoke on what they would like to say to their ancestors, heavy strength and vulnerability came with their tears. “I would like to say to them that I promise to make them proud. I promise to represent each and every tribal person. And carry on everything that they fought for, and in some cases died for,” said Councilwoman Bryan. “And I’m eternally grateful.”

Councilwoman Bean answered powerfully as she wiped her eyes: “Thank you. Thank you.”

These intense emotions carried into their advice for future generations. “The foundation that our ancestors and our past leaders and current leaders have laid for them opens the door for any possibility that they could imagine,” Bryan said. “And they are protected and we want to nurture them and help them be the best they can be, because they are our future leaders.”

To future generations, Bean says, “We’re getting it ready for you. Be ready. Listen. And I hope that you leave it better than you receive it.”