Meet the Indigenous Woman Running for Arizona Senate
It's not every day a woman runs for Senate—and definitely not in Arizona. Eve Reyes-Aguirre won't let that deter her, though. The 42 year old is trying to become first woman senator in the state and the first indigenous woman senator, at that.
Reyes-Aguirre, an Izkaloteka Mexican Native who lives in Phoenix, is running as a third-party candidate with the Green Party and still needs to secure 1,000 signatures before she can appear on the ballot come November, but she's not worried. She's got until May and already has about 400.
January 24, 2018
With current Republican Senator Jeff Flake retiring, that Senate seat is about to bust open.
She joins the ranks of Republican candidate Joe Arpaio, the racist former sheriff for Maricopa County; Republican candidate Martha McSally, the first woman combat pilot in U.S. history; Democrat candidate Kyrsten Sinema, a U.S. representative who leans more toward the middle than most Democrats; and all the other third-party candidates.
So Reyes-Aguirre's got some serious competition. And she's no politician. This mother of four has never run for public office and has a pretty limited voting track record, having vote for the first time 10 years ago for former President Barack Obama.
However, she's been politically active in other ways: serving on the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues from 2009 to 2017 and co-chairing the Global Indigenous Women's Caucus until last year. She's been a community organizer for more than 20 years and helped organize an indigenous women's contingent at the Phoenix Women's March last Saturday.
Given the current political climate, the candidate decided in July 2017 to work from inside the system instead. Protesting outside capitol buildings can only get a girl so far. Reyes-Aguirre wants to offer a voice for people who—like herself—have become disillusioned with politics. She thinks she's got what it takes. Hear it from the candidate herself.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
Earther: How do you expect people to vote for you when you, yourself, aren't a voter?
Eve Reyes-Aguirre: Looking at the direction this country is going in, there's a good majority of people who are not happy with the way the government is being run and its behavior. There's frustration among people who have been a part of the political system, who have voted Democrat and Republican and are now registering as Green.
We really do have the power to change the face of the political system. We just have to engage people, and right now people are looking at the Green Party. They're looking at the structure of the duopoly and how it's not representative of the people.
If we really want effective change, we have to fight on every level. We have to continue to organize in the community. We have to get involved in our political system—and even at the international level at the U.N. We have to fight through all these avenues afforded to us because if we don't, then, things won't change.
Earther: Talk to me about your environmental justice platform. What does that look like in Arizona?
Reyes-Aguirre: Indigenous peoples in all parts of the world are suffering from the same types of issues around their land, territories, and resources. Here in Arizona, for example, the Havasupai at the bottom of the Grand Canyon are fighting against uranium mining. The Trump administration is removing all the regulations in place to protect these areas. The Navajo Nation has also been fighting against the transportation of uranium because the dust that goes into the air and has been impacting their communities.
There's also the issue of Arizona Snowbowl. Reclaimed wastewater is being used to make artificial snow in these mountains considered sacred sites to 13 different tribes. Aside from the fact that it's affecting indigenous people and their freedom of religion and protection of sacred sites, it's also known that pharmaceuticals and microplastics cannot be taken out of wastewater. So now we're talking about putting that back into the Earth. When that snow melts, it'll go right back into the Earth.
So this affects indigenous peoples first, but it's not just an indigenous issue because water gets into our drinking systems here in the city. People need to understand it's a serious issue.
Earther: As a politician, how do you connect these issues to your white constituents in Arizona?
Reyes-Aguirre: That's the thing. It's not just an indigenous issue anymore. We breathe the same air. We drink the same water. We get our foods from the same places.
People get it. They understand that this damage we're doing may impact indigenous nations first, but it doesn't stop there. When it comes to the environment, our Earth does not discriminate against anybody. That's the way I'm trying to connect people to understand.
As a mother of four with a grandchild on the way, all I can think about is what's more important than ensuring my kids have safe drinking water or that their food and land isn't contaminated. We have to change the future for our kids. We cannot keep going in the direction we're going.
Earther: How are you getting your name out there?
Reyes-Aguirre: I'm depending on grassroots activism like I always have. I like to tell people Standing Rock wasn't an issue until we made it go viral on social media. So I'm depending on my folks and their support, like we've always done, to push out this platform I'm bringing forward.
The message is strong enough for people to share, and people are excited to support and help—people from all walks of life who are sick of corporate greed. Grassroots is the way that we're going to have to run this campaign, and I'm totally fine with that. I've been doing it for 20 years.
I'm trying to hold an event every week where I can connect with community members. We hold volunteer trainings, and I hope to do more Facebook Lives to get the word out. There are some meet and greets planned for Phoenix and Tucson.
Earther: What's the value in getting a woman of color, especially an indigenous woman, at the center of Arizona politics?
Reyes-Aguirre: The leadership we've had is not representative of women. Indigenous systems are matriarchal, and there's a reason for that. In indigenous nations, women are looked at in leadership roles because of the way they're caretakers of their people.
The leadership we've had in this colonial system has been obviously run by men and men who want to make decisions for women based on nothing other than being patriarchal. We need more women in politics, especially women of color, because we as women of color have specific issues that are not being addressed even among white women. That's one of the reasons why we decided to have a separate indigenous women's contingent within our Women's March. That's because we are for equal pay and equal rights, but indigenous women have to also worry about missing and murdered indigenous women. Black women also have their own priorities. The list goes on and on.
And then there's environmental violence. Women's reproductive health is being affected because of extractive and fossil fuel industries or pollution. Our bodies and babies are being jeopardized because of the impacts from these industries and contamination. It's not being talked about, and it's such an important issue.
Who better to raise that awareness than a woman?