U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids' children's book, Sharice's Big Voice, tells the story of how an Indigenous lesbian mixed martial artist and lawyer became the first LGBTQ+ representative of Kansas.
"My hope is that when children or kids at heart read the book, they can see that we all have unique paths, but no matter what, all of us deserve to be seen and heard," Davids told Windy City Times.
Davids, a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation in Wisconsin, was elected to represent Kansas' 3rd District in 2018. She was among the first Indigenous lawmakers to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
"I got to be a part of the most diverse class of people ever elected to Congress and one of the coolest things is that it gives us the lens and mindset of asking, 'Who hasn't been here before?'" Davids said. "We're asking questions that maybe other people haven't thought of because of their lived experiences compared to my lived experiences."
Davids' desire to write a children's book came in part from learning the dismal scope of Indigenous representation in literature for young people.
Barely 1% of children's books released in 2020 were written by an Indigenous author and just over 1% of children's books featured Indigenous characters, according to research from the Cooperative Children's Book Center at University of Wisconsin at Madison.
"As a native kid, not seeing stories like mine, it had a pretty big impact," Davids said. "I think there's something really extraordinary about having that feeling of being seen, having that feeling of being heard. I know a lot of people are working to shift that statistic, but it's pretty amazing to be a part of that."
Prior to her work in government, Davids was the first in her family to attend college and put herself through school by selling newspaper subscriptions and working in food service. When she wasn't working or studying, Davids attended mixed martial arts (MMA) classes and later competed professionally.
After graduating from community college and earning a law degree from Cornell, Davids worked on a reservation in South Dakota assisting native tribes with developing initiatives for economic growth.
Each of these experiences "help tremendously" in Davids' role in Congress, where she said her most important task is listening to others so she can help improve their situations.
Davids' book highlights the various paths the congresswoman explored as she gained an understanding of her own identity before running for government so that kids can understand adults "don't have all the answers."
The book also includes information about the history of the Ho-Chunk tribe from former Ho-Chunk President Jon Greendeer.
"I think people maybe assume I was the class valedictorian or didn't make mistakes, and that's how I got to Congress," Davids said. "But my path was one of working a lot of different jobs and getting in trouble for talking a lot."
Davids credits her mother with helping her "internalize" that she "deserves to be seen, heard and treated with respect," by raising Davids as though she was an "autonomous little human being" while also providing structure. Davids' mother raised her and her brothers on her own while serving in the U.S. army for more than 20 years.
Being a member of the Ho-Chunk tribe, the people of the sacred voice, "ingrained" in her a value for communication "in a core way," Davids said. In the book, Greendeer wrote about the importance of language and warrior tradition for Ho-Chunk people.
"It feels amazing to be able to show parts of melike being chatty and this process of learning to listen and having all this energy and growing into my own voicewhile also being able to acknowledge these are parts of the Ho-Chunk tradition and culture," Davids said.
Davids is also a part of the two-spirit community because it represents a different sort of community than what's conveyed by being a part of the LGBTQ+ community. The idea of the two-spirit community is varied and defined differently by different tribes and individuals, but works as an umbrella term for Indigenous LGBTQ+ people.
"There's a connection, when you're talking to folks from different tribal communities, that I think exists that isn't necessarily conveyed by the acronym 'LGBTQ+,'" Davids said. "Trying to be authentic is a way to help other people feel seen and heard."
For more information about Davids' book, see www.sharicesbigvoice.com/ .