When Christina Haswood would go to Capitol Hill to advocate for expanding tribal healthcare, she could hardly get into the real issues.
“Most of the time you get 30 minutes to speak with a staffer and the first 15 minutes is just giving a Native American history lesson,” Haswood said. “The average person in these powerful positions in our country making these policies and laws don’t know about tribal sovereignty.”
At 26 years old, Haswood is set to become the youngest member of the Kansas Legislature. After winning a primary race against two other candidates, Haswood now runs opposed come the November election. She is a member of the Navajo Nation, meaning she would be the third Native American to hold office in the Kansas House of Representatives. Her win at the beginning of August came alongside three other Native women who also won their primary races. Despite running unopposed, Haswood is not slowing down.
“We always want to not take this time for granted,” she said. “Right now, the game plan is to get more involved with the community and establish community relations and let voters know who I am.”
After being born on the Navajo reservation in Arizona, Haswood’s family moved to Lawrence, Kansas. Aside from her time as a student at Arizona State University, Haswood has lived in Lawrence her whole life, the town she is set to represent. Following ASU, she earned a master’s degree in public health management this past May from the University of Kansas Medical Center.
👏🏽👏🏽 we need public health leadership now more than ever https://t.co/pYudbTgtUL
— Christina Haswood (@HaswoodForKS) July 14, 2020
Haswood knows that dealing with COVID-19 is on everyone’s minds. The best solution she foresees is one that is data-driven, assuring that the faster people comply with masks mandates, the faster the economy can get back on track. More importantly, it will preserve the health of Kansans.
“[The Navajo Nation has] the highest mortalities of COVID-19, and unfortunately it reached to my family where we did have a death,” she said. “We have the time and resources to prevent the devastating impacts that COVID-19 has and I want to protect my community as much as possible.”
As a public health professional, Haswood is running on a platform that highlights issues like the expansion of medicaid, an effective response to COVID-19 and the protection of reproductive rights. Haswood noted her district, which also includes Baldwin City, typically runs blue. It gives ample reason to prioritize more progressive issues, such as reformation of the policing system, the legalization of marijuana and passing sensible gun laws.
The original plan was for Haswood to ease into politics. She planned to volunteer and familiarize herself with the system. But then she was asked to run. She initially felt unqualified, but then started to think. She reflected on the social programs she grew up on, like WIC and Section 8 housing. Haswood explained that although the state legislature makes decisions about social programs, many of them don’t have first-hand experience in needing the programs growing up.
Furthermore, the people that do rely on these programs can’t make it to see their representative. They’re too busy working two jobs or working on the weekends or taking care of their kids.
“That instilled a responsibility for me to be a voice of my background to be sure what was happening 20 years ago improves,” Haswood said.
Reflecting on the difficulties of being young and wanting to fit in, Haswood noted Native Americans are often “the minority of the minority.”
“For the longest time, I wasn’t comfortable with being Native American,” she said. “Finally, in high school, I dressed in my traditional dress and graduated and walked across the stage with my Navajo bun and my jewelry. But that was a journey in itself.”
She also remembered no one ever looking like her in high levels of government. But then Rep. Ponke-We Victors and Rep. Sharice Davids took office, giving Haswood the motivation to run. Now, she’ll move forward with a plan that champions progressive policies in order to move the state in a more inclusive, equitable direction.
“Us Native women do have a place in Kansas politics,” she said. “You are qualified enough! As long as you have a passion and a good heart, it will take you far.”