In 2015, Affie Ellis and her daughter took a trip to Cheyenne to see Wyoming state legislators at work in the state capitol. They were both struck by the lack of women they saw. Ellis’ daughter turned to her and said, “Mom, do they let girls serve in the Senate?”
Ellis was galvanized to action: She ran for a state Senate seat the following year and won, becoming the first Native American woman to serve in that body. Ellis is a member of the Navajo Nation. As she notes, she still doesn’t have many female colleagues. “Wyoming has one of the worst percentages of women serving in legislatures in the nation,” she says.
In office, Ellis has focused on energy industry policy and on education, and she co-sponsored a bill requiring state schools to teach students about Wyoming’s Native American history. “People often think Native Americans are a relic of the past and we’re not around,” Ellis says. “The goal is not to just teach about our historical contributions but our current contributions.”