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How Deb Haaland’s Confirmation Impacts Our Native American Future

Just How Will Native Americans — And The Rest of America — Benefit From the First Indigenous Secretary of the Interior?

Secretary of the Interior, Deb Haaland

A 35th Generation New Mexican and member of the Laguna Pueblo tribe, former Representative Deb Haaland became the first Native American Cabinet Secretary on March 15, 2021.

Moreover, she is the first Native American to head the U.S. Interior Department.

Put simply, Haaland’s Senate confirmation has not been a smooth process. Specifically, conservative lawmakers have criticized Haaland for her opposition to lucrative fossil fuel projects.

Despite receiving frequent opposition from GOP lawmakers, Haaland was confirmed by a 51-40 vote.

For example, Senators Cynthia Lummis (R-W.Y.), John Barrasso (R-W.Y.), and Steve Daines (R-M.T.) recently blasted Haaland for opposing the construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, calling her a “radical.”

“We shouldn’t undermine our energy production and we shouldn’t hurt our own economy," Senator Barrasso said in an opening statement. “Representative Haaland’s positions are squarely at odds with the mission of the Department of [the] Interior,” he said.

While she would de jure have little influence over the project—as President Biden already revoked a permit for its construction—Haaland is expected to play a critical role in fighting climate change as Interior Secretary.

Considered a progressive Democrat, Haaland has endorsed the Green New Deal on several occasions.

On February 24, Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) announced that he would vote to confirm Representative Haaland. As Chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Manchin oversaw Haaland’s nomination hearing.

Senator Joe Manchin

Manchin, a centrist Democrat, is a supporter of fossil fuel development. For this reason, many speculated whether or not Manchin was going to break party lines and vote against Haaland’s confirmation.

Because the U.S. Senate is split 50-50 among Republicans and Democrats, Manchin’s vote was seen as a huge win for Haaland, and all Native Americans at large.

“While we do not agree on every issue, she reaffirmed her strong commitment to bipartisanship, addressing the diverse needs of our country, and maintaining our nation’s energy independence,” Senator Manchin said in a statement.

“For all these reasons, I believe Deb Haaland will be a Secretary of the Interior for every American, and I will vote to confirm her.”

Following Manchin’s support, Haaland’s confirmation was anticipated. While a few Republican Senators approved her nomination, the confirmation vote was mostly along party lines.

Among other things, the Department of the Interior oversees more than 500 million acres of public land, administers territorial affairs between Indigenous nations, and maintains the conservation of most natural resources.

So, why is Haaland’s nomination significant?

In other words, what role will she play in the Biden administration? Moreover, what are the implications of her being the first Native American Cabinet Secretary in U.S. history?

In short, there are two main reasons why her nomination is significant:

First, it demonstrates that the Biden administration will have an uphill battle over its progressive climate agenda. The staunch opposition to Deb Haaland indicates that many progressive initiatives—such as implementing the Green New Deal—are not going to be achieved easily. After all, President Biden is already facing strong backlash from conservatives over his decision to end the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. While Democrats control all three branches of the federal government, the U.S. Senate is currently a 50-50 battleground. In sum, progressives have a long road ahead.

Moreover, it seems that the Biden administration is making tremendous strides to reconcile the relationship between Native tribes and the U.S. government. In essence, President Biden has made several efforts to enhance Native influence over government policymaking. Specifically, several Native women have taken leadership positions in the current administration.

In addition to Haaland, several Native Americans have been appointed to prominent positions in numerous executive agencies. As such, the Biden administration is receiving praise from progressive individuals for establishing rapport with Indigenous nations.

For instance, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-M.A.) recently extolled Secretary Haaland on MSNBC. “It’s not just Deb being there,” she said to anchor Joy Ann Reid. “This is about having someone who has this moment where she can actually reset the relationship between the United States and Tribal Nations. A woman who, down to her toes, believes in making our lands work and preserving them.”

In conclusion, March 15, 2021 was a significant day in U.S. History. Specifically, it marks when Native tribes finally received a voice in government lawmaking. While in 1928, the American people overwhelmingly elected Charles Curtis, who was a member of the Kaw Nation, to be Vice President, the United States has been relatively hostile towards Native tribes.

Indeed, major events such as the Trail of Tears, the Wounded Knee Massacre, and the Great Sioux War of 1876, just to name a few, have stifled relations between Native tribes and the U.S. government.

Fortunately, the tide appears to be changing.

Article Written By Jett James Pruitt, Tribal Member of the United Confederation of Taino People (UCTP)

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