Alaska’s Newest Congressperson, Mary Peltola, Makes History and Gets to Work

By Debra O’Gara, Tlingit, Yup’ik and Irish, Senior Policy Specialist, Alaska Native Women’s Resource Center
Mary Peltola is sworn into U.S. Congress in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2022. (U.S. House livestream).

The voters of Alaska made history in 2022 with the election of Mary Peltola to the U.S. House of Representatives. The first victory came with a special election in August to fill the vacancy of the late Representative Don Young, until the general election. Peltola won, becoming the first Alaska Native elected to Congress.

In the November 2022 general election, early returns showed a split between Peltola and Palin. However, Peltola took the lead, winning a two-year term.

Peltola, a Yup’ik from Bethel, Alaska, is a unique politician, not only for her history-making victory, but for her direct, unapologetic pro-abortion, pro-fish, and pro-Alaska positions. She spoke throughout the campaign in a calm, commanding, and respectful manner and ran a positive campaign. Peltola’s manner is in stark contrast to other campaign strategies by not exhibiting hostile partisan bantering.

On the day Peltola was sworn into office, House Speaker Pelosi invited the Alaska delegation, Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, to join her on the floor.  As they stepped forward, a wave of congresswomen, of all colors and parties, surrounded Peltola to celebrate the historic moment.

Peltola did not waste time, immediately refiling bills that had been championed by Rep. Young. She won passage of the Food Security for Veterans Act less than a month after taking office.

As a former state legislator, former executive director of the Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, and recent Orutsararmiut Tribal court judge, Peltola understands the issues and needs of rural Alaska. She is down-to-earth, easy to approach, and a thoughtful listener. Some believe Peltola’s victory in a predominantly Republican state may help break the deadlocked partisan divide forcing congress to once again focus and debate on issues rather than blind party loyalty.

Without missing a beat, Peltola jumped in to show what cooperation and sticking to the issues can do by ensuring H.R. 9113 passed the House in support of Senator Sullivan’s S. 3115, known as the POWER Act. Both bills “address the appalling victimization rates among Alaska Natives and American Indians.”1

Alaska’s new rank choice voting improves election choice and fairness. Alaska voters spoke by electing someone that will build bridges to create laws that are good for Alaskans and the entire country.