3 Cherokee Nation citizens running for U.S. House
Cherokee Nation citizen Markwayne Mullin is the incumbent for Oklahoma’s Second Congressional District. COURTESY
Cherokee Nation citizen Yvette Harrell is running for New Mexico’s Second Congressional District seat for the second time. COURTESY
Cherokee Nation citizen Danyell Lanier is the challenger for Oklahoma’s Second Congressional District seat. COURTESY
TAHLEQUAH – Currently, there are four American Indians in the U.S. Congress, all in the House of Representatives: Tom Cole and Cherokee Nation citizen Markwayne Mullin of Oklahoma – both Republicans – and Democrats Sharice Davids of Kansas and Deb Haaland of New Mexico.
The number may seem small, and America’s Indigenous population remains underrepresented in Washington, D.C., but it also ties for the most Natives ever to concurrently serve in Congress.
With the federal election weeks away, three CN citizens are campaigning for seats in the House. Mullin seeks a fifth term serving Oklahoma’s Second District, and is challenged by CN citizen and Democrat Danyell Lanier, and Libertarian Richard Castaldo. CN citizen Yvette Herrell is the GOP challenger for New Mexico’s Second District, running against Democrat incumbent Xochiti Torres Small.
Mullin said he enjoys and is committed to public service.
“Every morning when I wake up and do my devotional, I say ‘love the people, love the call,’” he said. “I truly mean that. It’s an honor to serve the great state of Oklahoma.”
Since the 2016 election of Donald Trump, Mullin has been a vocal supporter of the administration. He said he supports Trump’s agenda to “defeat the socialists, defend our cherished values and protect the sanctity of life.” His current public office, which he has held since 2013, was his first.
“I first ran for office after never having been involved in politics because I saw firsthand how government regulations were crushing businesses like mine and I knew I couldn’t stand by and watch that happen,” he said. “I came to Congress to fight against the job-killing overregulation, and against reckless deficit spending so my grandchildren aren’t saddled with our debt. We have made progress but the fight isn’t over.”
Mullin said people make decisions based on their upbringing and experiences through life, and that Cherokee culture has impacted both for him.
“I was born and raised in Indian Country so that influences every decision I make,” he said. “I grew up only going to (W.W) Hastings Hospital, so all I knew was Indian Health Services. IHS is greatly underfunded and it needs to be funded at adequate levels. It is a federal obligation.”
Lanier, a U.S. Navy veteran, said she wants to fight for rural education, health care access and protection of the environment and public lands.
“I have always had a sense of service to my community starting with being an honorable Navy veteran that swore a lifelong oath of upholding and defending our Constitution,” Lanier said. “I made the decision to run for Congress after witnessing an elderly lady put food items back in order to pay for her prescriptions at our local Walmart pharmacy.”
Lanier said she wants to work “across the aisle” and believes her military and health care service will help her accomplish goals. “I’ve spent the last 14 years in the health care sector working with elderly members and veterans all over the United States. I’ve held an appointment to the City of Wylie board of Ethics Committee and volunteered for numerous veteran support groups and domestic violence advocacy organizations. I understand the issues of everyday people, and I am running to be a voice for all Oklahomans…. If I am elected I will represent my family, community, tribe and state in a great way by collaborating with other lawmakers to sponsor and cosponsor bills that will improve the lives of other Native Americans, the general public and protect our lands and resources like our water. We must be good stewards of the earth. Selling our water to the highest bidder, lifting environmental protections and overlooking factory farming damage not only hurts Oklahoma today but for generations to come.”
Lanier also cites her Cherokee heritage as an essential formative influence.
“I am the daughter of a Cherokee mother and an African American father that found themselves with tremendous struggles as an interracial couple in Tahlequah in 1975 – they decided it would be best to place me up for adoption,” she said. “In turn, I was adopted by an affluent African American agri(cultural) family in Hugo. My adoptive parents always made sure I had a sense of cultural identity and embraced my Cherokee roots.”
Herrell is running for her district’s seat for a second time after serving Dist. 51 in the New Mexico House of Representatives from 2011-18. Her 2018 loss to Small was narrow – by less than 4,000 votes with nearly 200,000 cast. She also supports Trump’s presidency.
“I am running for Congress to be a voice for the people of New Mexico’s Second District and faithfully represent our shared values,” Herrell said. “Too many politicians forget about the people they serve when they get to Washington, but my focus will always be doing what’s best for them and our district.”
Like Mullin and Lanier, Herrell said her Native heritage has been influential on her outlook and decisions.
“It's always been a part of me, and has given me respect and appreciation for the vast diversity we have as Americans,” she said.
The only other time there were four congressional Natives was 1923-25 when Sens. Charles Curtis and Robert Owen, and representatives Charles Carter and William Hastings, served in the 68th Congress. Owen, Carter and Hastings represented Oklahoma. Hastings was an educator and Tahlequah lawyer who served as attorney general for the CN from 1891-95. His efforts helped secure an IHS hospital in Tahlequah named after him in 1935.
Owen was also a CN citizen and one of Oklahoma’s first two senators.
Also remembered as Herbert Hoover’s vice president, Curtis gets author’s credit for the Curtis Act of 1898, though he claimed dissatisfaction with the multiple committee revisions. The act dissolved the governments and courts of the Five Civilized Tribes, allotted tribal lands, and helped clear-cut the path for Oklahoma’s admission as a state.