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June 5: Native Legislators

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Leading up to the June 11 primary, we're celebrating democracy in action from North Dakota history, large and small.

The first North Dakota legislator recognized as having Native American heritage was Arthur Raymond. He was elected in 1970 after a career in journalism. One of his stories had been nominated for a Pulitzer prize.

Then there was Republican Dawn Marie Charging, the first the Native American woman elected to the legislature. She served one term from 2005 to 2008.

Ruth Anna Buffalo was the first Democrat Native American woman to win a seat. She didn’t set out to be a politician. In fact, she wanted to be a doctor. She didn’t do that either, though she pursued a career in public health. She later said, “I found that I could not work with cadavers my whole senior year, so I had a life-changing decision to make.”

In an interview with the New York Times, she responded to the question about how she was able to win as a Democrat in a largely conservative state.

She said, “I would say meeting people where they’re at. Literally on their doorsteps. Most people were surprised to see a candidate at their doorstep. They were pretty receptive and open to having a conversation with me on what matters most to them.”

She campaigned against the Republican incumbent Rudy Boehning. He was the primary sponsor of a bill Buffalo opposed, requiring Native Americans to have identification with a residential street address in order to vote.

After knocking on hundreds of doors, and speaking out against voter identification laws that would create obstacles for Native Americans to vote, Ruth Buffalo won the election for state house district 27 in 2018.

Three examples of Native Americans who have served in state office.

Dakota Datebook by Ann Alquist


Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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