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Port: Despite her claims, Rep. Buffalo is not the first female Native American elected to the Legislature

If identity politics matter at all, they matter enough for us to be accurate about it.

Ruth Buffalo 010819
Rep. Ruth Buffalo, D-Fargo, has introduced two bills in the North Dakota Legislature that would require law enforcement training and data collection related to missing and murdered indigenous people.
Tom Stromme / Bismarck Tribune
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MINOT, N.D. — "In 2018, I became the first Native woman elected to the North Dakota Legislature," writes state Rep. Ruth Buffalo in a recent letter to the editor .

The full letter from the Fargo Democrat is worth your time to read because it highlights an important issue. Specifically, the struggles against HIV in our Native American communities.

It's unfortunate, but perhaps not surprising given how central things like race and gender are to how Democrats see the world, that Buffalo would lead off a letter about such an important issue with some rank identity politics.

All the more so because her claim is just not true.

Rep. Dawn Marie Charging, from Garrison at that time, served in the North Dakota Legislature from 2005 to 2008 as a member of the Three Affiliated Tribes of the Fort Berthold Reservation. She was, per her legislative biography, the "First American Indian to serve ND Legislature from Three Affiliated Tribes," which makes her the first female Native American to serve as well.

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She was a vice chair of the National Council of State Legislature's Native American Committee, a member of the National Rifle Association, and (this is a fact that has to chap our liberal friends) a Republican.

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I'll admit that this sort of identity politics leaves me cold. A person's skills and competence, philosophy, and integrity matter to me a lot more than their race or gender.

While it's noteworthy to see offices of public leadership get more diverse, given the fraught realities of racial and gender oppression in our past, I'd much rather we elect people because they'll be good at the jobs we give them and not because they check the right identity boxes.

But in politics, and in particular for Democrats, race and gender identity matters.

A lot. This is no doubt why Rep. Buffalo, looking to bolster her arguments about HIV in Native American communities, would invoke her racial and gender bona fides.

Even if she wasn't being accurate.

Should we care more about the points Buffalo makes because of her race and gender? Or should we consider them on their own merits?

I would hope it's the latter.

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What's bizarre about Buffalo's claim here is that she's actually acknowledged, in the past, that she's not the first Native American woman to serve in the Legislature.

When I wrote about the Democratic-NPL erroneously claiming Buffalo was the "first Indigenous woman in the state Legislature" back in 2018 , Buffalo herself put up a Facebook noting Rep. Charging's previous service:

Ruth Buffalo Dawn Charging Facebook screenshot
A screenshot of a Facebook post made to Rep. Ruth Buffalo's account in November of 2018 shortly after her elected to the North Dakota House of Representatives.
Screenshot

Am I picking nits here?

Maybe. But still.

If identity matters at all, it should matter enough for us to be accurate about it.

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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