Monday

In Bismarck, North Dakota, last month, Ruth Buffalo stood alongside other newly elected lawmakers in traditional regalia and raised her hand—making history as the first Native American Democratic woman to be sworn in to North Dakota’s state legislature.

The Native American dress she wore was a replica of one her grandmother owned, and was completed with an eagle-feathered ornate fan given to her by her clan brothers hours earlier.

“[Eagle feathers] are often given to family members to celebrate an accomplishment,” she told Newsweek. “The dress was made for me by a lady from our tribe years ago.”

On November 6, Buffalo unseated State Representative Randy Boehning, who had championed the state’s voter ID law that many Native Americans viewed as an attempt to suppress their votes. Under the law passed by the North Dakota Supreme Court two weeks before the midterms, citizens in North Dakota were required to have a residential address in order to vote—a post office box was no longer enough.

Advocates for the law argued that it would prevent voter fraud, despite no evidence to suggest that fraud could or had ever taken place. For Native American communities the law functioned as an additional barrier to their citizens, many of whom lived in buildings that lacked numbers and streets without signs. Although some of the houses were officially registered, many Native American inhabitants didn’t know their exact address.

Despite the uphill battle, tribal governments and advocacy groups in the area refused to give up, with many scrambling to assist their communities in getting necessary identification in time for the midterms. Their anger and frustration resulted in unprecedented turnout across the state as they triumphed over laws they believed were designed to keep them out.


And although they were unable to save their preferred congressional candidate, Senator Heidi Heitkamp, Buffalo beat Boehning to take the 27th District, which includes the Republican Fargo area.

Buffalo, a member of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, recalled that her successful grassroots campaign focused on issues that affected her community, such as health care and education.

Lea Black Photography

“My main focus was just trying to reach as many voters as possible at their doorstep and having conversations on what mattered most to them,” she said. “I didn't have a huge budget with big donors or big corporations endorsing me. The governor endorsed my opponents. What I did have was people power, hard work and dedication. My campaign was pure grassroots, people led and people driven.”
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Responses to "North Dakota's first female Native American lawmaker sworn in wearing traditional dress"

  1. Congratulations!

  2. Unknown says:

    Well done! .. and congratulations from the Uk. 🇬🇧

  3. This is a milestone in history...

  4. KurlyKath says:

    Congratulations to Ruth and everyone involved in this wonderful outcome ! ! !

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