Giving Compass' Take:
- More Indigenous leaders are running for positions in local government to better address their communities' needs and increase representation.
- How can donors support Indigenous leadership effectively in local contexts?
- Learn about respecting Indigenous land rights.
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In this year’s primaries, there are more than 100 Indigenous candidates running for state or federal office in the United States. These leaders are no strangers to governance and civic duty—American Indigenous values, like the Iroquois Great Law of Peace, served as the foundational model for American democracy.
Still, these civic leaders face significant hurdles, particularly when they campaign in the many districts where Indigenous people aren’t the majority. They must overcome the limited mainstream awareness of Indigeneity and Indigenous issues, remnants of colonialism and lateral violence, and competing interests.
Crystal Cavalier, a community activist and enrolled citizen of the North Carolina–recognized Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation, ran in the stacked Democratic primary for U.S. House in North Carolina’s Congressional District 4 in May. The majority of the 875,000 voters in that district identify as being of European origin (54.4%) and female (51.5%). Cavalier didn’t advance to the general election, but she plans to run again in 2024.
For Cavalier, running for office is just one part of a longer journey in activism. She has a background as a certified cyber and information security analyst, with degrees in political science and public administration. Cavalier and her husband co-founded the nonprofit 7 Directions of Service for ecological and community activism. They have so far successfully opposed the Mountain Valley Pipeline and Southgate Extension, which would cut through their community.
“I’ve been fighting for the community that I live in,” Cavalier says.
Lawmakers and organizations have called the proposed pipeline an “environmental catastrophe with no certainty of completion.” County commissioners in Cavalier’s community voted unanimously to prevent MVP Southgate access, as it posed dangers to the local Haw River, drinking water, public safety, and property values. Cavalier hosts regular organizer calls and letter-writing campaigns and speaks out against construction of the pipeline with her allies in civic leadership, such as Steven Pulliam, Riverkeeper of the nearby Dan River.
“Being a Water Protector means you understand that water is your relative,” she says. “You’re speaking up for something that doesn’t have a voice.”
A D.C. Circuit court recently upheld FERC approval of the project; however, it still cannot proceed until the Mainline System Project receives all permits.
“We’re calling on Biden to stop the MVP. He can issue an executive order or just stop the entire thing,” Cavalier says. But, as is, “Biden is not making good on his campaign promises to Indigenous communities.”
Read the full article about Indigenous candidates by Hadassah Patterson at YES! Magazine.