This week, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a confirmation hearing to consider Representative Deb Haaland for Secretary of the Department of the Interior. Rep. Haaland leading this agency would add to Biden’s already racially diverse team, and mark a huge victory for Indigenous people who have been fighting for our political priorities to be heard for decades.
Rep. Haaland would bring integrity, innovation, and hard work to the Department of the Interior—and as the first Indigenous person to ever serve in this role, would bring a much-needed voice to our communities who have been intentionally shut out of the federal government for generations.
This is the first time in U.S. history an Indigenous person has ever had a real chance at leading the Department of Interior—an agency that oversees both the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Bureau of Indian Education. As the U.S. continues with a long-overdue racial reckoning, putting people in positions of political power that directly impact their own communities is critical, and Haaland’s confirmation would do just that.
Her track record as a Congressperson shows that she’s committed to furthering justice for Indigenous people—from introducing the bipartisan PROGRESS for Indian Tribes Act, a bill that aims to uphold strong relationships between the U.S. government and tribal nations; to introducing the Native American Business Incubators Program Act to break cycles of poverty in Indian Country, which passed by a voice vote on the House Floor; to coordinating cross-agency actions to address the ongoing epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women through the Not Invisible Act; and more.
Indigenous people do not need political insiders. We need people who deeply understand our issues, and are willing to uplift the priorities that we know will help our communities the most. As an Indigenous woman myself who knows firsthand how difficult it is for our voices to be heard, I’ve been heartened to see Rep. Haaland’s commitment to combating the erasure of Indigenous people, particularly Indigenous women.
During the previous presidential administration, which was rampant with partisan gridlock that continuously hurt working people and families, Haaland’s legislation had more Senate companions than any other representative. Over the last four years, Rep. Haaland led, co-sponsored, and whipped influential, bipartisan votes for more bills than any other freshman in Congress.
Her ability to proactively reach across the aisle to get the job done will be even more critical now, as countless people are reeling from the physical, emotional, and financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Further, Rep. Haaland understands the struggles of those who don’t come from wealthy families or make six figures. She comes from a humble background herself, growing up on food stamps—and like many Native Americans on reservations and people living in rural areas across the U.S., knows what it’s like to live without running water and electricity. She is deeply connected to her Indigenous culture, having grown up picking worms off corn stalks in the Laguna fields to provide produce for hundreds of community members on traditional Pueblo feast days.
She also knows firsthand what it’s like to be a small business owner in a tough economy, both through running her own small business, Pueblo Salsa, and through her experience on the Laguna Development Corporation Board of Directors. She raised her daughter as a single mother—an experience that countless people in this country can relate to. She understands how much strength it takes to be a single parent, recognizes how our government and society largely fails them and is dedicated to passing policy that economically benefits families of all kinds.
For too long, the U.S. has failed to include Indigenous people within executive branches. With Rep Haaland at the helm of a major governmental agency, we would have the opportunity for the first time in the history of this country to strengthen tribal sovereignty and nation-to-nation relationships. We are looking to the Biden administration to rally behind her confirmation, and for members of Congress to vote an emphatic yes during the official decision on March 2nd.
Indigenous people, and all people dedicated to changing the systems that fuel racial inequity from the top-down, celebrate this historic confirmation and look forward to working with Rep. Haaland to promote policies that will help build a more just and equitable world for all of us.
Korina Barry is the Managing Director of NDN Collective’s NDN Action team.