For Native Americans, Deb Haaland is more than an elected official on the way to becoming the first Indigenous secretary of the Interior Ministry. She is a fierce sister, aunt and pueblo woman whose political positions have been shaped by her upbringing.
The news of his historic appointment electrified the Indian country. For weeks, tribal leaders and organizations have urged people to write and call U.S. senators who will decide whether she heads the agency that exercises broad oversight over Native American affairs and energy development.
On Tuesday, Haaland’s confirmation hearing will be closely watched in tribal communities across the United States, with virtual parties amid a pandemic. The day before, a photo of the member from New Mexico was projected on the side of the interior building with a text that read “The dreams of our ancestors come true.”
Many Native Americans see Haaland as a reflection of themselves, someone who will raise their voice and protect the environment and tribal rights. Here are stories of its impact:
ALETA ‘TWEETY’ SUAZO, 66, LAGUNA AND ACOMA PUEBLOS IN NEW MEXICO
Suazo first met Haaland while campaigning for Barack Obama, going door-to-door in the pueblos of New Mexico.
When Haaland herself was chosen to represent New Mexico as one of the first two Native American women ever elected to Congress, she turned to Suazo and the state’s Native American Democratic Caucus to whip up goodies to hand out. during a reception.
They baked hundreds of pueblo pies, or pastelitos, and cookies, froze them, and took them to Washington, DC Dressed in traditional black dresses, they handed out the gifts with a thank you note from Haaland.
Suazo said she admired Haaland because she is articulate and intelligent, “doesn’t beat around the bush”, and is a member of Laguna Pueblo who returned there to dance as a form of prayer.
When she learned that Haaland had been appointed Home Secretary shortly after winning a second term in Congress, Suazo was not thrilled.
“Oh my God, she’s going to go, and who’s going to represent us?” Said Suazo, who lives in Rio Rancho, New Mexico. “Who’s going to represent New Mexico? This is our one and only Indian representative.”
She wanted to be assured that Haaland would be replaced by someone so dynamic, who would work hard to protect the environment, tackle an epidemic of missing and killed indigenous women and expand broadband, she said.
“I was happy, but I was scared. I didn’t want to lose her, ”Suazo said.
But she sees the importance and importance, she said, of having a Native American to oversee an agency that touches almost every aspect of Native American life. Suazo said she would watch, ready to scream on the screen if anyone questioned Haaland’s qualifications.
And to Haaland, she sends the message: Gumeh, or be a strong woman.
BRANDI LIBERTY, 41, IOWA TRIBE OF KANSAS AND NEBRASKA
When Liberty saw a photo of Haaland in a traditional ribbon skirt and moccasins for Joe Biden’s nomination, she cried.
She thought of her grandmother Ethil Simmonds Liberty, who only became an American citizen at the age of 9, despite being born in the United States on her tribe’s reservation that straddles Kansas and Nebraska. Her grandmother was a staunch advocate for her people, petitioning to turn a pigsty into a playground, writing letters to U.S. presidents and paving the way for opening a road to the reservation, she said. .
Brandi Liberty has thought of her own daughter, whom she hopes will carry on her legacy by working with the tribes and embracing their heritage.
She thought about her time at college where she had obtained a master’s degree and seen single mothers bringing their children to class, each realizing that it was not a burden but a necessity. She later became a single mother like Haaland, who spoke often of the experience, relying on food stamps and accumulating debt while working at college.
Liberty also thought about other tribal nations and what Haaland could do to move them in the right direction and connect them to Washington, DC in essence, Liberty’s grandmother on a larger scale.
“It’s no different from when Obama became the first black president and what that meant,” said Liberty, who lives in New Orleans. “It is a historic mark for the Indian country as a whole.”
ZACHARIAH RIDES AT THE DOOR, 21, MONTANA BLACK FEET TRIBE
Rides At The Door is studying environmental science and sustainability, and fire science as a third year student at the University of Montana at Missoula.
He brings a perspective to his studies that Haaland touted as unique to the Indian country – that everything is alive and should be treated with respect and that people should be stewards of the land, rather than having dominion over it.
In high school, he learned about the mining industry and its impact on the sites that are part of the Blackfeet’s founding story. He learned about the positions adopted by the American Indian Movement to fight for equality and the recognition of tribal sovereignty. He also recently learned that the United States had a Native American Vice President from 1929 to 1933, Charles Curtis.
Seeing Haaland’s political rise is inspiring, he said.
“It’s a great way for Aboriginal youth to say, ‘Alright, our foot is in the door. There is a chance that we can get higher positions, ”he said.
He is not yet sure what he wants to do when he finishes his studies. But he knows he wants to learn the Blackfeet language and maybe become a firefighter or work on projects that get the bison to the Blackfeet reserve.
He plans to attend at least part of Haaland’s confirmation hearing from home, hoping it is successful and can challenge Western ideology.
DEBBIE NEZ-MANUEL, 49, NAVAJO NATION IN ARIZONA, NEW MEXICO AND UTAH
During his recent campaign for a legislative seat in Arizona, Nez-Manuel sought Haaland’s approval. She was looking for someone whose values matched hers: belief-based, connected to the earth, a cohesive leader and strong unaffected by politics.
After several stages of verification, she got approval and planned to announce it at a rally to get the vote in the Gila River Indian community in Arizona, starring Haaland. It was also an opportunity for the two women to take a photo together.
Then the event was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. Nez-Manuel was devastated.
A few days before she was supposed to meet Haaland, Nez-Manuel was sitting at home when her phone rang. She didn’t recognize the number but answered anyway.
“Hey Debbie, it’s Deb,” the voice said over the phone.
“Who?” asked Nez-Manuel.
The caller replied, “Deb Haaland. Hello. I’m calling from New Mexico. I’m sitting in my kitchen. “
Nez-Manuel’s heart was pounding and she was struggling to put into words all of the thoughts she had so carefully written for this meeting. Haaland, she said, was patient and shared stories about life on and off a reserve – something that resonated with Nez-Manuel – and reaffirmed that Haaland had not forgotten her roots. .
“It’s like talking to an aunt,” she said. “She’s very factual.”
Nez-Manuel joked about getting a plane ticket to attend Haaland’s confirmation hearing in person in order to get that elusive image.
Instead, she and her husband, Royce, will be watching the Salt-River Pima Maricopa community in northeast Phoenix from their home. They encouraged their children’s teachers to integrate the audience into lesson plans and tribes to help answer questions about the process.