Meet the two Indigenous sisters running for local office in Sioux City: Trisha Rivers and Jessica Lopez-Walker.
Both are enrolled members of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska, a sovereign and federally-recognized Native American nation near Sioux City.
Rivers is running for Sioux City School Board and Lopez-Walker is running for city council. Both want to bring more diversity and awareness to Indigenous issues throughout the community.
Growing up Indigenous in Iowa
Raised in Waterloo, Rivers, 34, said she never fit in as an Indigenous person in school.
“I was adopted out of the family,” Rivers said. “Raised by a white, single father who worked as an electrician for John Deere for almost 40 years. I’ve been in the private Catholic school setting, and I’m really not oblivious to other environments or atmospheres.”
There were parts of her upbringing that she appreciates now, she added.
“I’m now able to have conversations with others and it doesn’t feel so foreign to me,” she said. “It’s nice to have my reconnection to my tribe and really solidify who I am.”
Motivation through tragedy
Lopez-Walker, 46, grew up in Des Moines and Saint Paul, Minnesota. She went to Nebraska Indian Community College to study psychology and art. Lopez-Walker is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree from Briar Cliff University in Sioux City
Recently, Lopez-Walker learned of a tragic connection she and her sister shared with many Native American across the country.
“We found out our aunt had been missing for about 35 years,” she said. “She was one of many murdered and missing Indigenous women in the country, and hearing stories from others is very relatable and dear to our hearts.”
If Lopez-Walker can help anybody avoid that pain, that’s what she wants to do as a city council member.
Trisha Rivers for Sioux City School Board
Alongside her run for local office, Rivers is constantly advocating for change in the community. Her list of accomplishments includes:
- Working as the Siouxland Project Director for an Indigenous-led nonprofit organization, Great Plains Action Society.
- Being the vice-chair for the Native American Parent Advisory Committee for the Sioux City School District.
- A board member for The Warming Shelter, a heating/cooling center for houseless Siouxland residents.
- Being on the Native American Advisory Board for the Sioux City Police Department.
- Serving as a Native Representative for Sioux City’s first Inclusive Committee.
- Receiving the 2022 Young Women of Excellence Award and the Human Rights Commission War Eagle Award.
“In my experience, major decisions are always tied down to the vote of a board, or a legislator or senator,” Rivers said. “I realized how important it was to be at these tables to actually have those conversations. It makes a difference when you actually are at the table with the decision makers, having those uncomfortable conversations, and being able to occupy those spaces, too.”
It has always been important to run for local office, but with growing toxicity in Iowa’s political climate, it’s more important than ever, she said.
“Running right now, especially as women of color, it’s important that our voices do not get ignored and that we don’t get pushed out,” Rivers said.
Her campaign will primarily focus on listening to educators and faculty and providing students with the best resources, tools, and education to make Iowa a top public education state again.
“We want people in the schooling system to learn how to be civically engaged because it’s going to be their voices that are going to be heard,” Rivers said. “And I’m no stranger when it comes to standing up and speaking out, even if your voice shakes.”
Jessica Lopez-Walker for Sioux City Council
Although Lopez-Walker is running for city council, she has not put aside her busy life as a business owner, worker, mom, and more. Lopez-Walker stays involved in and around the community by:
- Creating Indigenous fashions as a seamstress for her small business, Shining Wing Designs
- Teach students at Winnebago for Ho-Chunk Renaissance and Little Priest Tribal College
- Serving as a foster care family recruiter in Sioux City
- Working for FedEx
- Being a mom to her five children
“I’ve been thinking about running for office for a good year now,” Lopez-Walker said. “It’s a good time in my life to take that step and meet different people that are willing to stand with me and my sister.”
It’s time for Indigenous women to sit in the seats where decisions are being made, she added.
“My number one goal is to bring more diversity and cultural awareness to the area,” she said. “It’s important we’re heard and represented.”
Lopez-Walker hopes her campaign and potential placement on the city council will educate people in the community.
“There are a lot of people that don’t understand Native American history and what we’ve been through, and that’s really alarming,” she said.
Lopez-Walker’s platform also aims to fight homelessness and human trafficking, support Indigenous women, increase diversity, and support small businesses throughout Sioux City.
Campaigning as sisters
At the end of the day, Rivers and Lopez-Walker know they have the support of one another.
“Being able to sit right next to my sister, look over, and know she’s there is very reassuring,” Rivers said. “Sometimes we have negative self-talk and wonder if we should really be here, but with my sister there it makes it better.”
Lopez-Walker agreed, adding that having the support of a sister is empowering.
“Running together keeps us close,” Lopez-Walker said. “It’s daunting when you’re there by yourself, so I really appreciate that my sister is there and we can go through this together.”
by Grace Katzer
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