(EnviroNews Utah) — Salt Lake City, Utah — On July 21, 2017, at an LBGTQ bar called the “Sun Trap” in Salt Lake City, Carol Surveyor announced her candidacy for Utah’s 2nd Congressional District. She runs as a Democrat, and if elected, will be the first Native American congresswoman in United States history. She is already the first Native American woman to run for Congress in Utah’s history.
Surveyor, who is Co-Founder of the Utah League of Native American Voters, is a well-known activist who now seeks to expand her impact through becoming a lawmaker. She hails from Shiprock, New Mexico, and is born to parents of the Edgewater and Bitter Water clans of the Dine’ people, a.k.a., the Navajo Nation. She is a single mother of three daughters and according to her own words, “[knows] what it feels like to make minimum wage and to have my health insurance cut.”
Her goal, amongst many others, is to unseat Republican Representative Chris Stewart — a controversial figure in Salt Lake’s progressive constituency, and a man who’s even been chased out of town hall meetings to the sound of angry chants and jeers over issues pertaining to climate change and the environment.
Thus far, Surveyor has only one Democratic challenger for the ticket: Misty K. Snow. Surveyor’s acting campaign manager Moroni Benally told EnviroNews that at this point, they “are not expecting anyone else to enter the race.” Snow, who works as a cashier in a grocery store, made a bit of history herself last year when she became the first transgender woman to run as a nominee for the U.S. Senate, challenging Republican incumbent Mike Lee.
Surveyor has been on the front-lines on myriad social and humanitarian issues, and was a strong voice on the ground in North Dakota at the encampment surrounding the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) fight.
In an effort to delve deeper, EnviroNews USA Editor-in-Chief Emerson Urry caught up with Surveyor in an exclusive interview. The transcript reads as follows:
Emerson Urry: So, there are between five and six million Native American people in the United States – about two percent of the overall population. That’s a pretty significant number. You’re attempting to do something no human being has ever done before: become the first Native American woman elected to the United States House of Representatives. Why do you think there hasn’t been a Native congresswoman to this point? What can be done, above and beyond your candidacy, to inspire Native American women to become more involved in the political process? You said in your announcement speech, “It’s about time.” Tell us more.
Candidate Carol Surveyor: I think part of the reason is the way this country views and treats women. Hillary Clinton received a great deal of criticism because she was a woman. Women of color are often overlooked in their opinions, their views, their leadership, and so forth.
Native Americans have traditionally been overlooked and forgotten in this country, women in native communities are traditionally matriarchal. Yet, there have been many native women who have run for public office. In the past, there are native women who have run for federal office, but unsuccessfully. Again, I think this is because politics is still viewed as a men’s game. My remark about “it is time,” refers to changing the game, and what better way to change the entire game than by electing a Native woman? Doing so would be a shift in the way many people the world over see the U.S., how many people see U.S. politics in this country, and it would show how progressives in the U.S. recognize and understand the forgotten voices. I am a forgotten voice.
Urry: You chose an interesting venue for your candidacy announcement event: the Sun Trap — an LBGTQ bar in Salt Lake City. Tell us more about that — and elaborate on your connection to the LGBTQ community in Utah and tell us what you’ll do to stick up for those people.
Surveyor: I have many friends who are LGBTQ, in fact, my campaign manager is queer. I have seen how this community has been treated, how they have fought for their rights, and how resilient this community is in facing the obstruction and erosion of not only their liberties, but really their lives. My connection, as cliched as it sounds, really comes from my personal observation of how my close friends are treated. It is time we end this treatment and allow all people the rights and dignities they deserve.
Urry: You’re on EnviroNews now, so let’s talk about the environment. Utah suffers under a hampering, ongoing air pollution crisis of relentless “red air day” spikes. Despite many efforts by state lawmakers and Utahans across the board to get a handle on the issue, the dangerous, deadly environmental problem persists. What can you do at the federal level to ensure Utah starts to significantly clean up its air? What is your plan to address this bipartisan problem that affects all Utah’s residents?
Surveyor: I really think the efforts by many governors across the country to implement the policies of the Paris Accord is a good start, especially within the political landscape of states rights in this state. At the federal level, I will work to strengthen the Obama Administration’s regulations on carbon, but also work to ensure further safety measures are taken for our health. Because in the end, it is about the health of our children and the health of the planet.
I really think addressing the bipartisan problem in Utah is about framing air pollution as a family values issue – because it is. The earth is our mother, our children deserve a healthy planet, the economy thrives in environmentally sound and safe areas. And if it’s framed as an economic expediency issue, then there are many entrepreneurs who have the knowhow and genius to help create markets that create jobs and preserve the earth and climate at the same time. I believe in our best and brightest; we can’t believe that our genius is stifled in creating a better future.
Urry: As states go, Utah, behind only Nevada, has the second highest percentage of land owned by the federal government, with 64 percent of its terrain being held by Uncle Sam. Utah’s Governor, and many of the state’s current congressmen, such as Representative Rob Bishop, would like to see Utah back in control of as much of that federal land as possible, and multiple “land grab” efforts have been made to take territory back. Many of these same GOP lawmakers also support reversing the status on places like Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments. What is your position on the vast stretches of federal land within Utah’s boarders? Should more of it be under the control of the state? Or, should it remain how it is now — under federal control?
Surveyor: I believe when the people have spoken and when there are moral and religious claims on the land (such as Bears Ears), then we must act as a democracy and yield to the voice of the people. In terms of the land in control by the federal government, I understand as much, if not more than they do, about the reach of the federal government in controlling land. As a member of the Navajo Nation, tribes have little control over their own land; so I get the frustration.
There are two issues at play here: one is a question of federalism and tribal sovereignty – this goes all the way back to Jefferson and Adams; the other is an issue of the moral use of the land when in control of the tribes or the states. In Utah, at this time, I believe a deep compromise can be reached about the ultimate use of the land. I firmly believe the State of Utah can control its own land and make use of it for the future of the Utah in a way that does not harm the earth, or in a way that does not add to climate change, and in a way that moves us toward energy choice.
Urry: Utah is a place riddled with mining, industrial plunder and waste operations. It’s been reported for example, that over 95% of Utah’s many oil and gas wells have been fracked. You are a Water Protector, and you were at the DAPL protests at Standing Rock in North Dakota correct? What was your takeaway from that experience? What did you learn? And how will you fight for water in the Beehive State if you are elected the next representative for Utah’s 2nd District?
Surveyor: I did go to Standing Rock, yes. My takeaway from that experience is that direct action is necessary at times when there is persistent injustice. I learned that Standing Rock represented democracy in action. And this is one of the reasons why I am running: the voice of the people is ignored many times. Standing Rock amplified the voice of the people in a way that it hasn’t for some years. Water is indeed life — farmer’s livelihoods depends on clean water, industry depends on water, technology depends on water. It is all connected. If we do not have access to clean water, there is no economy, there are no jobs. It’s that simple.
Urry: Representative Chris Stewart, your soon-to-be opponent if you overcome any other Democratic challengers (of which there is currently one), is also the Vice Chair of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Subcommittee. During his run for office in 2012, he said the EPA is “a federal agency he would like to see dissolved.” What’s your stance on that? Is American industry over-regulated? Compare your own views to the congressional record of your opponent. How would you be stronger on issues pertaining to the environment?
Surveyor: Chris Stewart’s record can be reduced to making big government smaller. In other words, this is about state’s rights and local control. The EPA is viewed as a regulatory obstacle for success; I see the EPA as pollution relief, asthma relief. Can agencies in the federal government be more efficient and streamlined? Absolutely! But essential agencies that have proven their efforts in pollution relief have lead to thriving economies — just look at what happened in both LA and NYC before and after the EPA was created. No one can say it wasn’t because of the relief the EPA gave to these cities.
If we cannot be good stewards of the environment, and think of ways to innovate using the American entrepreneurial genius, then what are we doing as Utahans? We are capable of economic innovation that reduces climate change, while also expanding and creating clean and renewable energy markets that create jobs. Because in the end, this is the Utah argument: we need to get rid of the EPA because is stifles growth. I refuse to believe that Utah’s ingenuity can be stifled by anything. These things relieve us from life-threatening pollutants.
Urry: Lastly, you mentioned the weakening of VAWA, the Violence Against Women Act, in your announcement speech. Something you have spoken about openly is the tragic murder of your own mother, as sentencing looms against the perpetrator in that horrendous crime. How has going through that incredible ordeal changed you as a person? And how on Earth do you take something like that, and turn it into anything positive? How has this tragedy motivated you in your nascent political life, and how will it influence your policymaking in the future if you are elected?
Surveyor: It is difficult to explain the impact of my mother’s death. It is hard to imagine a life without my mom still.
My mother believed in me whole heartedly in everything that I did. She taught me to believe in myself and when I would start to doubt myself (which I often did) she helped me to always put things into perspective. No one can replace what we had. And now she is not here to help me and support me like she always did. Instead I now remember the lessons she gave me when we were together to help me keep moving forward and continue to live this life for both of us.
I carry my mother with me. On May 29, 2016, I moved here to Salt Lake City to be my mother’s voice and advocate. I wanted to be here, accessible to the lawyers who were on my mother’s case. I was determined to fight for my mother. You see, we had already lost my mother’s younger sister, Selena Hathale to domestic violence. She, Selena, was also murdered in Phoenix, Arizona, leaving her son Joey at a tender age of 7 or 8 years old. So, you see I wasn’t going to let this go by. I sold my furniture and moved out of a home and came here with my two daughters and whatever could fit in my four-door Taurus. I was determined to tell the world about my mother, and I did just that. I took my voice to the streets joining activists here in the community, speaking at rallies; I was also the DJ on Sundays. I traveled to Standing Rock in North Dakota to tell my mother’s story alongside the Water Protectors. I made sure on January, 2017, that at least 10-12,000 people heard me tell the story when I spoke at the woman’s rally here in Salt Lake City. And today, as I stand here before you, I am running for U.S. Congress.
My family has been through a lot, but we are no different than most families. We pray, we eat our meals together and sometimes we disagree, but our prayers and our love for each other keeps us strong. The strength of my family will help me rise above the challenges as they always have.
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