Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., likely will be the first Native American named to lead the federal agency that has the most influence over the lands and issues that affect the nation’s indigenous people.
Republicans in Congress have opposed her appointment as President Biden’s secretary of the Department of the Interior. They should have jumped on board.
Haaland is one of only three Native American women ever to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives. (Yvette Herrell, R-N.M., became the third when she took office on Jan. 3, 2021.) Haaland has worked with members of both parties on native issues. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla, and Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, have joined senior Democrats in support of her nomination.
Republicans have said they oppose Haaland because her tweets were mean and partisan in the past. Most of the same senators had overlooked Richard Grenell’s misogynistic characterizations of women on Twitter in order to approve him as U.S. ambassador to Germany in 2018.
Haaland’s tweet calling Republicans “science deniers” has been called a step too far, the definition of bad faith.
Senators from energy-producing states have expressed rightful concern about how fossil fuel regulations imposed by the department might affect their constituents. They asked Haaland to reject fossil fuel limitations that are part of the Biden administration’s policies.
Normally, cabinet nominees are expected to support the policy positions of the president who names them, not be penalized for doing so. This attempt was nothing more than grandstanding.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs is part of the Department of the Interior. Its mission, listed on its website, is to “protect and improve the trust assets of American Indians, Indian tribes and Alaska Natives.” The bureau has a dark history of failing miserably.
Early policies following its creation in 1824 were designed to subjugate and assimilate native peoples. Tribal sovereignty over lands in North America on which they had lived for centuries has often been ignored.
The BIA has a long record of ignoring corrupt and exploitive practices. Much may have changed, but the ethnically white monopoly on the leadership of federal agencies that control much of Native American life has not.
Haaland, a member of the Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico, would finally bring perspectives from indigenous communities too often rendered voiceless about government actions that affect them.
America’s indigenous peoples deserve Haaland’s voice as Interior secretary. As a cabinet appointee, she deserves the support of senators of both parties.
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