Mary Peltola (Yup’ik) wins Alaska special election, becoming first Alaska Native in Congress

Mary Peltola (Yup’ik) won a special election for the House seat left vacant after the death of Republican Don Young. Her win makes Peltola the first Democrat in 50 years and the first woman to hold the seat along with being the first Alaska Native elected to Congress. Peltola won Alaska’s House seat through ranked-choice voting and will compete for the seat again in the regular election in November against Sarah Palin and Nick Begich III.

From 1999 to 2009, Peltola worked in Alaska’s House of Representatives, chairing the bipartisan “bush” caucus of rural lawmakers. She later became a Bethel City Council member, a lobbyist and a salmon advocate as the executive director of the Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.

In her interview with CNN prior to the ranked choice tabulation, Peltola commented that the Yup’ik people are ‘holistic’ thinkers. “Everything is interconnected,” Peltola said. “When we talk about community wellness, we talk about the entire community. I do think of things in very broad terms, and I do recognize that in Alaska, even though we have a huge footprint, we are a very small in numbers population, and we are all related.”

To learn more about the Yup’ik people, check out these books that focus on their teachings, experiences, and values. Yup’ik Words of Wisdom (Bison Books, 2018) highlights the words of expert orators and focuses on key conversations that took place among elders and younger community members as the elders presented their perspectives on the moral underpinnings of Yup’ik social relations. Wise Words of the Yup’ik People (Bison Books, 2018) documents their qanruyutait (adages, words of wisdom, and oral instructions) regarding the proper living of life. 

And watch out for forthcoming Elias Kelly’s My Side of the River (July 2023). It looks to combine memoir and the stories of his elders with the impact of resource conservation on Native Alaskan communities to discuss the impact of federal and state regulations on traditional life and subsistence methods of Native Alaskans. 

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