President Biden’s appointment of U.S. Representative Deb Haaland from New Mexico to the head of the Home Department is historic on several levels. Haaland, a registered member of the Pueblo de Laguna, was one of the first Native American women elected to Congress, along with U.S. Representative Sharice Davids of Kansas. And if confirmed, she will be the first Native American to lead the agency that administers the nation’s fiduciary responsibility to American Indians and Alaska Natives.
The Indian country has an important history with the Home Office which has been more often bad than good. But Haaland’s record shows that she is determined to move forward on bigger challenges that affect all Americans. She spoke particularly on the climate, environmental protection, public lands and the management of natural resources.
As the Executive Director of one of the country’s only Indigenous Policy Institutes, Indigenous Studies Specialist and Citizen of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma, I’ve been fully aware of Haaland’s work since his election to Congress in 2018. I have followed his leadership on issues such as broadband access and infrastructure for Indigenous nations.
In Indian country, Haaland is considered everyone’s “aunt”. Having him lead the team gives Indigenous America a seat at the policy table. For New Mexico, she has been a productive member of Congress, re-elected in 2020 with over 58% of the vote. And while a few western senators have called his point of view “radical,” I think native issues are American issues. If Haaland is confirmed as Secretary of the Interior, many observers expect her to provide bold leadership for an agency that oversees what is arguably America’s heart: her land.
A large portfolio
Haaland grew up in a military family, raised a daughter as a single parent, and worked in tribal administration before entering politics. Describing herself as a “proud progressive,” she supports policies such as a ban on fracking, the Green New Deal, a path to citizenship for undocumented migrants, and a national single-payer health care system.
Haaland’s knowledge of indigenous and western issues are important references in leading the Home Office. Established in 1849, the agency manages the cultural and natural resources of the United States. It has nine technical offices, eight offices and 70,000 employees, including many scientists and experts in natural resource management.
The department’s portfolio includes national parks and wildlife refuges, mixed-use public lands, ocean energy development, regulation of surface mining and mine clean-up, and research conducted by US Geological Survey. It oversees the use of over 480 million acres of public land, primarily in the western states, 700 million acres of underground minerals, and 1.7 billion acres of outer continental shelf along the coasts. American.
One of the primary ministerial missions is to fulfill fiduciary responsibility – a legal obligation that the United States has to honor promises made to tribal nations in exchange for their lands. This political relationship stems from 370 treaties between the federal government and Indigenous nations.
Tribal nations are part of the family of governments in the United States, along with federal and state governments. There are 574 federally recognized sovereign tribal nations that have a nation-to-nation relationship with the US government through the relationship of trust. They are located in 35 states on 334 reserves. Tribal lands total 100 million acres.
According to the National Congress of American Indians, the trust’s liability covers two important interrelated areas:
• Protect tribal property and assets that the US government holds in trust for the benefit of tribal nations.
• Secure tribal lands and resources as a basis for distinct tribal cultures, including water for irrigation, access to fish and game, and income from natural resource development.
The term “Indian country” is a legal designation of tribal lands. It is also a philosophical definition of where we come from, as Aboriginal people.
Indigenous Nations and the Ministry of the Interior
Indian Country and the Home Office have had a controversial history that makes this appointment particularly powerful.
One of the most significant problems has been the Indian Land Agency’s longstanding mismanagement on behalf of hundreds of thousands of individual Native Americans since the late 1880s. In 2009, the Obama administration negotiated a $ 3.4 billion settlement in a long-standing class action lawsuit against the Home Office. Elise Cobell, a member of the Blackfeet Nation, has filed a lawsuit on behalf of more than 250,000 plaintiffs.
One current issue is the fight for Oak Flat, a sacred Apache site in southern Arizona that is about to be mined for copper. The site is both culturally and archaeological important. Several different groups are suing to prevent mining there, and members of Congress have introduced legislation to prevent the federal government from transferring title to the land to mining companies.
Another example is the fight for the Dakota Access Pipeline, which members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and other water conservationists say threatens the burial grounds and water supplies of native people. Yet another controversy is the Trump administration’s decision to reduce the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, which protects sacred sites for more than 20 tribes and pueblos. President Biden is reviewing the Bears Ears decision, and tribes and conservationists are urging him to shut down the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Beyond these high profile cases, the actions of the Home Office affect many other facets of tribal governance. For example, the Office of Indian Affairs oversees tribal gaming agreements and right-of-way infrastructure decisions for projects that cross Indigenous lands.
Many of the agency’s resource management activities also affect the tribes. The department recently approved a Drought Contingency Plan for the Colorado River that will place water conservation requirements on several states, counties and tribes. And resource development proposals often affect lands that are important to Native Americans even though they are not officially part of a reserve, but are traditional homelands or sacred spaces.
Because the relationship of trust includes a relationship between governments, all federal agencies must respect it. President Biden issued a memorandum on tribal consultation and strengthening nation-to-nation relations on January 26. This policy statement, which builds on and develops similar statements by Presidents Clinton and Obama, has been well received in the Indian country.
If Haaland is confirmed, Biden’s memo will require that she submit a detailed implementation plan and progress reports to the Office of Management and Budget. Tribal consultations are already planned. Overall, political experts expect Haaland to work to restore tribal lands, tackle climate change – which significantly affects indigenous peoples – and protect natural and cultural resources. The Biden-Harris Plan for Tribal Nations describes this program.
Native problems are American problems
I believe that as Home Secretary Haaland will focus on issues that are important to all Americans, not just indigenous peoples. Recent polls show that a majority of Americans believe the federal government should do more to fight climate change and protect the environment.
“I will be fierce for all of us, for our planet and all of our protected lands,” Haaland said when announcing his appointment.
For Native Americans, seeing people who are like us and who are where we come from in some of the highest elected and appointed offices in the United States demonstrates inclusion. Indian Country finally has a place at the table. The seriousness of this position is not lost on Haaland, and I expect it to make a difference for all Americans.
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.