Sep 13, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Mary Peltola sworn in as first Alaska Native Congress member

Photo of Mary Peltola raising her right arm as she's sworn in by Nancy Pelosi

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (left) participates in a ceremonial swearing-in of Rep. Mary Peltola as husband Gene Peltola looks on at the U.S. Capitol on Sept. 13. Photo: Alex Wong via Getty Images

Democrat Mary Peltola was sworn in Tuesday to represent Alaska in the House, becoming the first Alaska Native Congress member in U.S. history and the first woman to hold the seat.

Why it matters: It's the first time Alaska Natives, who make up 16% of the state's population, will have a voice in national office. Peltola, who is Yup’ik, will serve out the rest of the late Rep. Don Young's (R-Alaska) term after defeating Sarah Palin in the special election.

What she's saying: "To have a seat at the table is different," Peltola told AP this week. "But I am just always reminding people that I’m not here to represent just the 16% of Alaskans who are Alaska Natives. I’m here to represent all Alaskans."

  • She has said she hopes to echo Young's time in office as a more moderate lawmaker and work across the aisle with conservatives.

The big picture: Alaska Natives have struggled in the last few years as salmon — a mainstay in their subsistence traditions — grew increasingly scarce due to climate change and commercial trawling operations, per AP.

  • Peltola's campaign, which laid out a "fish, family and freedom" platform, promised to "fight back against the foreign and out-of-state trawlers that are decimating our king salmon."
  • Many Alaska Natives celebrated her victory, calling the election of an Alaska Native leader "long overdue," AP reports.
  • Peltola will face off against Palin and other opponents in another ranked-choice election in November after advancing in a primary last week.

Worth noting: Republican Joe Sempolinski and Democrat Pat Ryan, who won their respective special elections in New York, were also sworn into office on Tuesday.

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