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'Muslim with a hijab' blazes trail as new North Dakota lawmaker

Hamida Dakane was unofficially elected as of Wednesday, Nov. 9, receiving 31.8% of the vote. She will serve a two-year term out of District 10, which runs west of Interstate 29 to parts of Veterans Boulevard.

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Hamida Dakane stands in the Al Hamdi Restaurant on Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2022, in south Fargo. Dakane was elected to the North Dakota House for District 10 the night before after running her campaign from the restaurant.
Michael Vosburg/The Forum
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FARGO — Hamida Dakane didn't dare look at the election results on Tuesday, Nov. 8. Her friends kept close tabs during a watch celebration at Al Hamdi Restaurant in Fargo, but she refused to look.

Running for a seat in the North Dakota House of Representatives, Dakane was unofficially elected as of Wednesday, Nov. 9, receiving 31.8% of the vote.

She will serve a two-year term representing District 10, which runs west of Interstate 29 to parts of Veterans Boulevard. Dakane will be representing her district with Steve Swiontek, a Republican, who garnered 40% of the vote.

Dakane said she didn't know the results until the last minute, and told her friends, who were looking for results, not to tell her.

"I chose not to look, but I was around a lot of people I looked up to and my friends from the community were there," she said.

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With the win, it's believed Dakane is the first Muslim woman of color to be elected to the North Dakota House of Representatives.

The North Dakota Legislative Council and Secretary of State Al Jaeger could not confirm whether Dakane was the first Muslim woman of color elected to the House. Spokespeople were not aware of any others, but neither office tracks the race or ethnicity of legislators.

"We sometimes get asked about racial makeup, but that is something that isn't tracked, and rightly so," Jaeger said.

In a state that voted mostly red on Tuesday, Dakane stands out in a crowd.

“I am a Democrat, and I am a Muslim and I am black,” said Dakane, who always wears a hijab, usually accompanied by a colorful dress.

Hukun Dabar, executive director of the Afro-American Development Association, lives in downtown Fargo and said Dakane’s win has “opened a door for all of us.

“This was an important race for all of us, not only me, or Somalis, or Muslims, but for people of color in the area," Dabar said. "Just like Hamida, you can be yourself, and this shows an improvement and shows that people want change and acceptance and a future for all of us."

The win will help motivate people who look like Dakane, Dabar said. It lets them know they can run for office and they don't have to fear, he said.

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Hamida Dakane in April 2021 when the mosque in Moorhead was vandalised.jpg
Hamida Dakane in April 2021 when the mosque in Moorhead was vandalised.
C.S. Hagen/The Forum

Over the years, Dakane could usually be spotted at meetings in City Hall, or around issues involving immigrants and social reform.

She was present at the cleanup effort of the mosque in Moorhead after it was vandalized in 2021. She has been outspoken about child care and immigrant issues.

Dakane expressed the importance of the hijab, something she's worn since she was 7 years old.

"It is very important for me personally and my religion. There are young girls looking up to us, and it is good for them to see that even with my head covered, you can still do your job,” Dakane said.

Growing up in Kenya, she was always interested in politics, but she became emboldened after Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat, was elected to the U.S. Senate.

“A state that is as old as North Dakota is and 2013 was the first time they elected a woman was surprising to me,” Dakane said.

Dakane came to North Dakota in 2012 on a student visa. She earned her bachelor's degree in emergency management and international studies from North Dakota State University, and later obtained a master’s degree in public administration and energy management from the University of Mary.

She plans to put her talents to use, and represent the people, believing in the separation of religion from politics.

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“There is a lot of things in Islam that doesn’t align with Democrats, but that doesn’t apply to the community,” Dakane said.

When knocking on doors, people are talking about not being able to pay their rent, how they want to work, but don’t have affordable and accessible child care, she said.

"I am not representing a Muslim state," she added.

Getting through the race, Dakane said her hope was for every immigrant across North Dakota and the nation to realize their power is not limited.

All of the work "is to let the young immigrants in our community know that although they came from somewhere, this is their home,” she said.

Hamida Dakane in 2020 outside of Fargo City Hall.jpg
Hamida Dakane in 2020 outside of Fargo City Hall.
C.S. Hagen/The Forum

This wasn't Dakane's first race. She lost out on a seat in District 16 in 2020 prior to redistricting by the 67th Legislative Assembly in the November 2021 special session.

Throughout this year's race, she remained positive, and was encouraged by the support.

"In a way it was very shocking, but in a way I knew we worked so hard. Being who I am, I had those feelings, surrounded by white males and nearly being the only person of color,” Dakane said.

During the past two years, Islamic religious institutions, businesses and the local cemetery have been hit by vandals, and Dakane sees her election as a truer representation of the community she will represent.

“Our victory for the Muslim community, the bigger community is way better because I am elected by a majority white community," she said. "Most people are not immigrant or Muslim and they voted for a Muslim with a hijab."

C.S. Hagen is an award-winning journalist currently covering the education and activist beats mainly in North Dakota and Minnesota.
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