Ruth Buffalo will soon be formally recognized as 2019 Woman of the Year, an honor given by the North Dakota Women’s Network. It’s a well-deserved award. She is an accomplished and respected woman who has proven she can do the hard work and represent people of all races and nationalities. In today’s white nationalist climate, our communities need more bridge builders like Buffalo.
Kudos also go out to the voters in Fargo’s House District 27, which is 90.2% white, who elected Buffalo to the North Dakota Legislature last fall. Buffalo is an enrolled citizen of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation. Since she won her election, she’s a sought after speaker who brings a much needed voice to local, state and national issues regarding people of color.
A voice of political reason is needed especially after recent mass killings that specifically target minority groups. The shooting of Mexicans in El Paso has created an atmosphere of alarm where some people have said they felt hunted. We need leaders who promote understanding as opposed to those who eschew hate. We need leaders like Buffalo who can bring calmness to and create cohesivity in our communities. Elected leaders like Buffalo are uniquely qualified to bring forward legislation to protect our citizens from crimes of hate.
For decades, Indigenous women have lived in danger on the Great Plains with many gone missing, others murdered. No one knows for sure how many Native women have been killed because there has been no data tracking. We learn of the plight of these women often in horrendous situations, such as the murder of Savanna Lafontaine-Greywind of the Spirit Lake Nation or the disappearance of Olivia Lone Bear on the Fort Berthold Reservation. Lone Bear’s body was later found in a truck submerged for months beneath the waters of Lake Sakakawea.
As a state legislator, Buffalo had an impressive seven bills approved by fellow lawmakers. Thanks to Buffalo, new state laws now address human trafficking in North Dakota, creates a missing persons database and also studies challenges to data reporting for missing, murdered and trafficked Indigenous people.
A banquet will be held Sept. 13 in Fargo to applaud the work of Buffalo. As the first Native woman Democrat to serve in the North Dakota Legislature, she’s just getting started. Kudos also goes out to the North Dakota Women’s Network for acknowledging the accomplishments of a Native woman. Buffalo is a voice for people who have been long silenced in North Dakota.
Jodi Rave is the director and founder of the Indigenous Media Freedom Alliance. She is a Harvard University Nieman Fellow of journalism.