Not surprisingly, most of these lawmakers are serving in western states where more than 80 percent of indigenous peoples live—Alaska is home to 11 Native lawmakers; Montana has elected seven; New Mexico's legislature now has five Indian legislators; Oklahoma, Arizona, and South Dakota each have three Indian representatives; Washington has two; and Colorado and North Dakota have one each. Eastern states also have indigenous representation: Maine has two representatives—a Penobscot and a Passamaquoddy; North Carolina's Lumbee tribe has a member in the state legislature; and Vermont has a lone Native member.
Our preliminary results give us reason to be moderately optimistic. For example, in response to a question about how they respond in situations pitting tribal interests against state interests, we received some interesting comments: "tribal rights are paramount;" "I always support and vote for tribal sovereignty issues;" and that "my position as a state legislator is to recognize the sovereignty of tribes."
These lawmakers are under no illusion, however, about the harsh world that is state politics. In response to a question about how their non-Native state colleagues view the doctrine of tribal sovereignty we received dismaying responses like "they don't understand or have much respect for tribal sovereignty" they are "afraid of tribal sovereignty;" and they express a "strong distrust of Indian motives, ideas, and attitudes."
Copyright © 2003 Indian Country Today. This article first appeared in Indian Country Today (August 2003), A5.
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Wilkins, David E. “Native State Lawmakers: Minimizing the Tribal Disadvantage.” Indian Country Today 23, no. 11 (August 2003): A5.