As Arizonans and Valley dwellers, we are blessed to live on precious land, among diverse communities.
How do we honor and respect the origins of our land and the people who have resided in our state for generations --- true Arizona Natives? One way is to have those experiences and perspectives represented in state government.
This primary election, some voters have the chance to make that happen.
Debbie Nez-Manuel is an Indigenous woman running for an open seat in the Arizona House of Representatives. Believe it or not, if elected, she would be the first Native female to represent Legislative District 26, which includes parts of Tempe, Mesa, South Phoenix, and the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community.
This milestone is long overdue.
But Nez-Manuel’s candidacy is about much more than her ancestry and roots.
It’s about the person she has become, and the vision she has garnered, from her trajectory of growing up on the Navajo Nation in northern Arizona to three decades of residing in the urban tri-city area of Mesa, Tempe, and Scottsdale.
Nez-Manuel was raised by people and around people whose priority for generations had been to first care for their communities, rather than themselves. This is why she advocates for strong families and strong communities.
As a young adult, Nez-Manuel saw the limitations in housing, employment, and educational resources on the Navajo Nation, so she moved to Phoenix, first living in public housing with some family members, and later, when she found work, renting several different apartments solo over the years while working minimum-wage jobs, like one at the K-Mart on 16th Street and Roosevelt.
She realized these jobs were not going to provide her the life for which she quietly yearned, yet she had faith that things would get better. And they did.
She sought new opportunities, working at a local Jewish-owned business called Reliable Furniture, and then at Standard Restaurant Supply Company.
During those years, she worked side by side with people struggling in many ways --- one of which was just to earn a living. This shaped her commitment to education, health care, affordable housing, and food security. All the while, she clung to her goal of stability in her own life. She completed a degree at NAU’s College of Public Programs, which allowed her to transition into a fulfilling career with Casey Family Programs in their partnership with Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community.
This shift grounded her work and passions. She discovered meaning, intention, and purpose, further igniting her values around community.
She forged leadership experience along the way, in 2016 receiving the Arizona Governor’s Volunteer of the Year Award for committing her life to serving urban and rural youth throughout the state. And, her activism was instrumental to HB 2570, legislation that established a 21-member Study Committee on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, which passed unanimously in both the Arizona Senate and House — no small feat.
Nez-Manuel has long been widely respected. With her campaign, she has earned the support of a diverse coalition, including the business community, unions, working-class organizations, and proponents of public education. These groups --- not always aligned --- have come together to back her genuine commitment to consider every single voice.
We should consider hers.
Editor’s Note: Nadia Mustafa is a resident of Scottsdale. She’s a social justice volunteer, yoga teacher, wine educator, freelance journalist, and mom to an 8-year-old and 5-year-old.