By Andréa Martinez
The Concept of a Native Person in Charge — Especially of the Executive Branch’s Relationship with Tribal Nations — Has Some House Republicans In a Tizzy
When President Joe Biden nominated Rep. Deb Haaland (D-NM) to become his Secretary of the Interior, waves of gratitude and relief reverberated through Indian Country. No Native person had ever served in the U.S. Cabinet. Finally, it seemed like Native Americans would have a seat at the colonizers’ table and a say in the policy that affected their everyday lives.
Haaland received widespread support from tribal governments throughout the country for her historic nomination. Then, in a completely unsurprising turn of events, 15 House Republicans sent a letter to Biden expressing their strong objections and requesting that he withdraw Haaland’s nomination. Their letter outlined their concern about her (laudable) support of the Green New Deal. Whether or not they consider that to be solid ground to stand on, it’s notable they targeted an Indigenous nominee.
Haaland's credentials say she would bring an unimpeachable perspective to the position. In addition to her time spent on a congressional committee overseeing the Interior Department, her personal experience with homelessness and intergenerational trauma from her grandmother’s time in a boarding school has informed Haaland’s strong stances against structural violence such as man camps — the temporary living situations for workers brought in for pipeline construction — shown to exacerbate the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women (MMIW). And yes, Haaland has also championed environmental initiatives such as the Green New Deal. While many would consider her voice and Indigenous perspective a breath of fresh air in a white, male-dominated space such as the House of Representatives, it would seem that others consider that an encroachment.
The Secretary of the Interior oversees many agencies, notably the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). The BIA has perpetrated some of the greatest injustices against Native Americans, including forced assimilation through boarding schools. A Native American matriarch heading this department would represent a huge step toward creating a more just society — and toward healing some of our country’s deep racial wounds.
We should note a couple of key things about the letter from the House Republicans. First, the main author, Rep. Pete Stauber (R-MN), received blowback from all five federally recognized tribes in his district. They denounced him for selling out his constituents by prioritizing the interests of the fossil fuel industry. The letter's authors also built their argument on baseless claims more suited for a propaganda piece. For instance, the House Republicans claim that the Green New Deal would completely eliminate air travel, and they cite a right-wing D.C. think tank. They go on to twist Haaland’s support of a sustainable future into a direct assault on American jobs, once again ignoring any credible sources of information.
This letter of condemnation may seem like a stumbling block. In fact, it offers an opportunity for us to take action by asking our Senators to secure Haaland’s nomination as the Secretary of the Interior. Together, we can mold the future that we want. Let’s signal that we won’t accept some House Republicans targeting Rep. Haaland, no matter their supposed reasons. In her own words, “I’ll be fierce for all of us.” While this ferocity may move opponents to question her, it also makes Haaland the perfect representative for Indian Country and Americans of all stripes. We need voices like hers to stand up to injustice and call for change, now more than ever. America is at a critical point, and we must decide who we want to be. We can either continue to go along the same old path with the same old leadership, or we can learn from history’s injustices and build a better society for our future.
Ask Your Senator: Vote Yes to Confirm Deb Haaland
Rep. Deb Haaland of New Mexico is uniquely qualified to fill the position of Secretary of the Interior, but some Senators have signaled they'll oppose her nomination. Join us in asking your Senator to support her confirmation without delay.