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2021 in Review | No. 4: Haaland makes history, brings Native issues to forefront

By Colleen Keane
Special to the Times


Last March, tribes across the country celebrated Deb Haaland’s confirmation as cabinet secretary for the Interior Department.

Top 10 Stories of 2021: No. 4

She became the first Native American ever to hold the powerful position responsible for government-to-government relations with 574 tribes, trust land, federal schools, national parks, monuments, wildlife refuges, dams, reservoirs, energy resources – both fossil fuel and alternative — and tens of thousands of jobs.

“(This should) have happened a long, long time ago,” said Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., when he introduced Haaland to the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, the committee that voted on her nomination.

Haaland’s hearing didn’t go easily. She was grilled by Republicans concerned about President Joe Biden’s moratorium on oil and gas leases. At one point, she was even yelled at.
She graciously pledged she would listen to all citizens and their concerns through it all.

Deb Haaland

“I will work my heart out for everyone; the families of fossil-fuel workers who help build our country; ranchers and farmers who care deeply for their lands; communities with legacies of toxic pollution; people of color whose stories deserve to be heard; and those who want jobs of the future,” she said.

The cabinet secretary nomination is not the first time Haaland made history.

In 2018, she, along with Sharice Davids, D-Kan., Hochunk, became the first Native American women elected to Congress.

Haaland’s reputation for working “across the (partisan) table” to get things done in Congress surpassed the naysayers. A couple of members praised her abilities – Heinrich and Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska.

Heinrich pointed out that during Haaland’s position as U.S. congresswoman, “Of all the members of Congress newly elected in 2018, she introduced the most bills with bipartisan cosponsors.”

Working with Young, she secured bipartisan support on the Indian Buffalo Management Act, the Progress Act, and legislation addressing missing and murdered Indigenous women.

During her first year as cabinet secretary, she’s wasted no time addressing long-ignored tribal issues.

According to her office, she helped the distribution of $1 billion in federal money to increase broadband internet access on tribal lands; supported the withdrawal of oil and gas development near Chaco Cultural National Park; ordered the removal of derogatory names from public lands; and continued efforts she began in Congress to stop violence against Native women on and off tribal lands.

During her confirmation hearing, she promised to prioritize water settlements, new school construction, safeguard sacred tribal materials from illegal export overseas and protect the environment from toxic hazards.

After she was sworn in, producer and organizer Charmaine Jackson, Diné, summed up the impact of her confirmation.

“We are now coming to the forefront of leadership within this country and our own tribal communities,” Jackson said. “I think she is a wonderful role model for Native girls and all Native people. I know she will do an exceptional job and make us proud.”

Related articles:
• March 4, 2021, Haaland holds her own in heated hearing.
• March 18, 2021, Haaland takes reigns at Interior with historic confirmation.


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