Nov 2018- Democrats Sharice Davids and Deb Haaland will become the first Native American women elected to Congress. In New Mexico, Haaland will replace Democratic Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who vacated the seat to run for governor, and Davids will unseat Kansas GOP Rep. Kevin Yoder. Davids is a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation and Haaland is an enrolled member of the Pueblo of Laguna, according to their respective campaigns.

The victories of the two Native American women mark a milestone in the US political system. Davids won in Kansas’ 3rd Congressional District, unseating Republican incumbent Kevin Yoder. Haaland, a native of Winslow, Arizona, is projected to defeat Republican and former House member Janice Arnold-Jones in New Mexico’s 1st District. Haaland served as New Mexico’s Native American vote director during President Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign, and she was the chair of the Democratic Party of New Mexico from 2015-17. Davids is an attorney who served as a White House Fellow during the Obama administration.

But for both Davids and Haaland, the achievement comes with a sobering reminder of how long the achievement took. “It really is pretty amazing that it has taken this long,” says Jean Schroedel, a political science professor at Claremont Graduate University who studies Native American voting rights. “There certainly are a good number of states where the Native population is a substantial portion of the population.”

Native Americans have long faced significant barriers to voting. They were only granted the right to vote in New Mexico in 1962, making it the last state to enfranchise Native Americans, almost 40 years after they were granted U.S. citizenship. And in several states, including North Dakota and Utah, voting rights advocates have voiced concerns about rules that have disproportionately affected access for Native Americans this year. Congressional victories in the midterms drew the most attention, but Native American political organizers say that advances at the state and local levels were just as crucial. They cited continuing battles to enfranchise voters across the country who have long been marginalized.

States including New Mexico and Arizona effectively barred many Native Americans from voting for decades after they were given the right in the 1920s. Elsewhere, districts were gerrymandered to bolster white candidates.

In San Juan County in southeastern Utah, where Native Americans have long outnumbered white people, Navajo Democrats waged a protracted legal battle to realign voting districts to better reflect the county’s population. A federal judge in 2017 ordered the county to redraw boundaries to give Navajos a majority in two of three county commission districts.

The battle did not end there: Republicans in the county tried to prevent a Navajo candidate, Willie Grayeyes, from running for county commission this year, saying he lived across the Utah border in Arizona. Officials removed Mr. Grayeyes from the ballot before a federal court determined that a county clerk had falsified documentation in the case. Mr. Grayeyes appeared on the ballot, and he won.

Sharice Davids was in new again this week when she announced on Saturday that she would support House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) in her bid to retake the Speaker’s gavel. She praised the diversity of the Democrats’ incoming class of members and noted that other, less high-profile leadership positions are also attracting younger candidates.