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Sunday, 11 December 2011 00:00

Navajo Wenona Benally Baldenegro Wants to Be 1st American Indian Woman to Congress

Written by  Levi Rickert, editor-in-chief in Native Currents

Equipped with a law degree from Harvard Law School, two master's degrees, a whole lot of energy and sheer determination, 34 year-old Wenona Benally Baldenegro is first Navajo woman to ever run for Congress.

And if she succeeds in her quest, Baldenegro will become the first American Indian woman to ever serve in Congress in the history of the United States. "I have spent the past ten years working behind the scenes on public policy related issues, now it is time for me to seek public office," said Baldenegro.

“And, I intend on connecting with Arizona voters who want good representation in Washington.”Growing up in a single-parent home on the Navajo Indian Reservation gave her a strong perspective on people in need and she knows many people want to be heard.

"I felt good about a man who told me while I was campaigning that he could feel my energy," stated Baldenegro. She intends on meeting as many people who live in the district as she can.

She is running in the Democratic primary race to win the party's nomination in Arizona's First Congressional District. The primary election will be held on August 28, 2012.

The only other opponent currently vying for the Democratic nomination is former Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick, who is trying to get back to Congress after being defeated by current Congressman Paul Gosar in last year's election. If Baldenegro wins the nomination, she will face Gosar, a Republican, serving in his first term. In 2010 Gosar is listed was a Tea Party candidate, according "The New York Times."

While Arizona congressional districts are in the final stretch of being redrawn and decided by the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, it appears the district will include Flagstaff and Sedona. Additionally, the proposed district has many miles of remote rural area that contains several American Indian reservations, including a great portion of the Navajo reservation, White Mountain Apache, San Carlos Apache and Hopi Indian reservations, among others.

“The proposed congressional district has eleven tribes and it is time we have a voice in Congress,”stated Baldenegro to the Native News Network on Friday afternoon. "If approved as proposed, the congressional district will consist of 21 percent Indian voters, 20 percent Latino with a total 41 percent ethnic vote."

Perhaps, more than counting on the ethnic vote, Baldenegro maintains the fact that district is heavily rural that unique needs regardless of race or ethnicity.

"There are so many remote areas within the district that have no running water, no electricity. The district needs someone to represent it that understands the needs of those living there. The district needs a strong voice. We need someone who can bring sustainable jobs here."

Baldenegro grew up in Kayneta, Arizona, which sits in the Navajo Indian Reservation. She graduated second in her class from Monument Valley High School in Kayneta and first in her class from Arizona State University. She later received dual degrees in the same year: a Juris Doctorate from Harvard Law School and a Master of Public Policy from Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government and Public Policy. This year she earned her a second master's with a Master's of Law from the University of Arizona.

Since announcing her candidacy, Baldenegro has been busy seeking endorsements. Recently, she was endorsed by the United Steel Workers of America, the Progressive Democrats of America. Individuals, who have endorsed her, include:

  • Johnny Naize, Speaker of the Council, Navajo Nation;
  • Ben Nuvamsa, former chairman of the Hopi Tribe;
  • Dr. Octaviana Trujillo, former chairwoman of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe;
  • Congressman Raul M. Grijalva, D-Arizona;
  • Congresswoman Linda Sanchez, D-California;
  • Congressman Keith Ellison, D-Minnesota; and
  • Congressman Joe Baca, D-California.

Less than 10 American Indians have ever been elected to Congress. Currently, Congressman Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma, is the only American Indian serving in Congress. Baldenegro hopes 2012 is the year more American Indians get elected to Congress.

Link to original article from Native News Network

Read 5149 times Last modified on Saturday, 21 January 2012 18:25

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