For nearly two centuries, the U.S. Department of the Interior has been responsible for much of this country’s dealings with Tribal Nations. Interior’s divisions include the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Bureau of Indian Education, and the Bureau of Trust Funds Administration. Yet in all that time, no American Indian has ever served as the Department’s top leader, nor has there ever been an American Indian appointed as a Presidential Cabinet-level Secretary.
That should change soon, thanks to President Joe Biden’s nomination of Congresswoman Deb Haaland to serve as Secretary of the Interior.
Rep. Haaland is not only a historic pick—she is uniquely qualified for this position. A graduate of the University of New Mexico Law School and a former tribal administrator, Haaland has firsthand knowledge of tribal governance as well as the opportunities tribes have and the challenges they face. She understands sovereignty and appreciates the trust relationship and our nation’s treaty obligations. She boasts public and private sector experience, and she knows how Tribal businesses can be an economic engine not only for tribal communities but for states, rural regions, and impoverished areas. She has a record of working across the aisle to find common ground on tough issues.
At the same time, Haaland will also be a leader to ensure the protection of public lands as well as fish, wildlife and the great bounty that is our collective national inheritance. She has been a leader on sensible but robust responses to the perils of climate change at a time when new directions are desperately needed. Haaland was a trailblazer even before this nomination. A citizen of the Pueblo of Laguna, she was the first woman to chair the board overseeing the second largest tribal gaming enterprise in New Mexico and one of the first two Native American women ever elected to Congress.
While in Congress, Rep. Haaland worked to strengthen tribal sovereignty and expand protections for Native women and children. She championed legislation to honor the United States’ promises to Native nations that have gone unfulfilled for far too long, and she authored the Not Invisible Act, which was signed into law this past September to help address the crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women. Most recently, she led the House effort to ensure that tribes received the funding they need to address the COVID-19 pandemic in their communities.
The Interior Department is responsible for the management and conservation of more than 500 million acres of federal lands, or about one-fifth of the land in the United States. The Department oversees hundreds of national parks, dams and reservoirs, wildlife refuges, hunting and grazing land, and more. Haaland will be the guardian of these precious natural resources so they can be enjoyed for generations to come.
Rep. Haaland has a strong background in this part of the Department’s mission as well. She cares deeply about rural and western communities and comes from a family of hunters, farmers, and ranchers. Without question, Rep. Haaland will be an Interior Secretary for all of America because she shares our common bond: a love of our land and waters and a deep desire to protect them for generations to come.
There is also one other important aspect that we cannot ignore – what the appointment of Secretary-nominee Haaland means to Native people, especially our children. Her appointment sends the message that there are no limits to the possibilities for Indian boys and girls to grow up and be and do great things. The value of that to future generations is impossible to overestimate.
Deb Haaland is someone who knows what it is like to struggle and who always looks out for ways to help people, no matter their tribal affiliation, party, politics, or beliefs. I call upon the U.S. Senate, including Oklahoma Senators James Lankford and Jim Inhofe, to approve Haaland’s nomination because having her expertise at the helm of the Department of the Interior is not only sorely needed but will greatly benefit Cherokee Nation and all of Indian Country.
Chuck Hoskin Jr.