CHEYENNE – In the weeks leading up to the filing period in late May, running for office was not the first thing on Lynnette Grey Bull’s mind.
As an active member of the Northern Arapaho tribe and vice president of the Global Indigenous Council, Grey Bull was instead focused on responding to the coronavirus, which quickly spread on the Wind River Indian Reservation after its arrival in March.
“I focused on delivering food, boxes, diapers and other needs, along with some other amazing people,” she said in an interview Tuesday. “And so here we were back in May, the last week to file, and here comes the question again.”
With the encouragement of colleagues, Grey Bull ultimately decided to seek Wyoming’s lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, currently held by Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo.
If elected this year, she would be the 23rd person – and the first Wyoming delegate – with Native American ancestry to hold office in Congress.
From her perspective, the pandemic has urgently highlighted the need for equity in health care across all communities. Grey Bull said the Wind River Reservation did not have adequate testing or personal protective equipment at the start of the outbreak, noting the similar experiences and high case numbers of tribes in other states.
As of June 23, the Northern Arapaho tribe reported nine of Wyoming’s 20 deaths from COVID-19, or 45%, though Native Americans make up 2.7% of the state’s population.
“That, to me, is just another circumstance of systemic racism, and people don’t like to talk about systemic racism, probably because it doesn’t affect their community,” Grey Bull said. “But when you’re understanding how institutionalized racism is set in our systems, then you’re able to identify it, and unfortunately, I was able to identify it with what happened to our own community.”
Grey Bull, who is running as a Democrat, is not fully supportive of a “Medicare-for-All” proposal due to some concerns about the ripple effects of such an idea.
“The finer details of those bills can still hurt our senior citizens, and in my culture, we put senior citizens on a place where they don’t have to suffer or they don’t have to be the ones to fit the bill, so to speak,” she said.
Beyond health care, Grey Bull saw several other areas where the federal government could build on its response to the pandemic, including the possibility of approving more aid for small-business owners and ranchers.
“I don’t believe that million-dollar businesses or franchises should receive more millions of dollars,” she said. “It’s not them that are actually on the brink of losing their business.”
With the nationwide wave of protests against police brutality, Grey Bull also offered her support for the Black Lives Matter movement, stating the need for white people to realize “the problem of George Floyd is not just George Floyd, but all the lives prior to that.”
“My children are half-African American, so ... when I see things with other African American men, I think that could be my son,” she said.
Grey Bull noted she is the only non-white person running for either federal race in Wyoming this year, a fact highlighted during a recent candidate forum in Gillette. Regardless of whether her bid for office is successful, she was optimistic about Wyoming being ready for some new voices at the table.
“Whether it’s me or somebody else down the line in the years coming, I do believe Wyoming deserves a representative who actually lives here and understands the environment here,” she said.
Grey Bull is running against Saratoga resident Carl Beach for the Democratic nomination in the primary, which will take place Aug. 18.