During an on-air interview with Fox News, Arnold-Jones was asked about the fact that Haaland could be the first Native American woman elected to Congress. At least one other female Native American candidate – Sharice Davids of Kansas – will also be on the November ballot.
Arnold-Jones responded to the reference about the potentially historical nature of Haaland’s campaign by saying, “That’s what they say, yes.”
Asked to explain, Arnold-Jones went on to say: “There’s no doubt that her lineage is Laguna, but she is a military brat, just like I am. … I think it evokes images that she was raised on a reservation.”
She also said she was confused by Haaland’s stance on immigration-related issues, suggesting tribal groups might be vulnerable to relaxed border security because they have a limited law enforcement presence.
Haaland, a former state Democratic Party chairwoman who won a six-way primary race in June, has touted her Native American roots and received hefty campaign contributions from tribal groups around the country.
But the Laguna Pueblo member and former San Felipe Pueblo tribal administrator has also been forthcoming about frequent moves during her upbringing and the fact that her late father, a Marine Corps veteran, was a non-Native American of Norwegian ancestry.
“I went to like 13 public schools before I graduated from Highland High School (in Albuquerque),” she said in a May 2017 interview.
In response to Arnold-Jones’ comments, Haaland said Thursday that she is proud of her Native American background.
“My opponent’s assertion on Fox News … that my parents’ military service, or not being raised on a reservation, means I am not Native American is racist, an assault on military families and wrong,” she said in a statement.
Several top state Democrats also issued statements backing Haaland, while state party Chairwoman Marg Elliston described the comments as “Trump-style garbage.”
Former Cochiti Pueblo Gov. Regis Pecos described Arnold-Jones’ comments as disappointing.
“It’s a very divisive application of a framework of identity,” Pecos told the Journal. “Where you were raised doesn’t really determine your degree of lineage or devotion.”
New Mexico has one of the nation’s highest percentage of Native American residents – 11.9 percent as of 2016 – although that percentage is lower in the Albuquerque-based 1st Congressional District, where Arnold-Jones and Haaland are squaring off.
Meanwhile, Arnold-Jones, a former state lawmaker and Albuquerque city councilor, told the Journal late Thursday that she was trying to point out that Haaland’s upbringing was similar to hers.
“I would never denigrate your heritage or her heritage or anyone’s heritage,” Arnold-Jones said.