Rep.-elect Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo) Among Those Offering to Help Lead the Way Forward on Environmental Jobs Plan

Rep.-elects Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) Cortez and Deb Haaland (D-NM). Photo credit: NPR

Published December 22, 2018

WASHINGTON — Newly elected US Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) began her tenure with a bang by proposing the formation of a “Green New Deal. She then joined activists gathered outside House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s office rally on its behalf.

Her goals, to make America 100 percent renewable in the next decade and to provide jobs and justice with special attention to communities of concern, will now depend largely upon gaining the support of members serving on House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming.

The committee, long dormant, was resurrected by Pelosi on Thursday, with Rep. Cathy Castor (D-Fla.) at its head. Though Ocasio-Cortez had originally proposed a different Select Committee specifically designed to implement her vision, she said in a tweet that a committee was never her end goal.

“Our goal is to treat Climate Change like the serious, existential threat it is by drafting an ambitious solution on the scale necessary—aka a Green New Deal—to get it done,” she wrote.

Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo)

Her big picture thinking and her willingness to doggedly pursue her vision is unsurprising, given that her journey to the House started when she traveled to America’s heartland to participate in anti-pipeline protests.

At a televised national town hall on Dec. 4, Ocasio-Cortez stated, “I first started thinking about running for Congress at Standing Rock, in North Dakota and South Dakota. And it was really from that crucible of activism, where I saw people putting their lives on the line, and Native peoples putting everything they had on the line…that I had to do something more.”

Now, she’s finding allies in those who helped inspire her run for Congress. Chase Iron Eyes, who grew up on Standing Rock and now serves as an attorney for the Lakota People’s Law Project, ran for North Dakota’s lone congressional seat in 2016. He said he believes the Green New Deal is an extension of what began there.

“The legacies of liberation, the water protector movement that started at Standing Rock, will find a home in the Green New Deal movement,” he said. “We’ve got a sea change right in front of our eyes. We’ve got to take this right now, seize this moment.”

More than 30 members of the House have endorsed the Green New Deal. Last week, Deb Haaland (D-NM), one of the first two Native women to be elected to US Congress in 2018, talked about why she believes Native participation is so important.

“I feel like Indian tribes can have such an amazing role in moving that Green New Deal forward,” Haaland said. “It’s our responsibility to leave an Earth that’s better than the way we found it, and it’s the government’s responsibility to move our country forward in this new clean energy era—otherwise suffer the detriment of climate change. I, personally, have an obligation to see that through.”

Haaland isn’t the only newly elected Native American voice to endorse Ocasio-Cortez’s vision.  The Green New Deal is “bringing a different perspective to politics, to economics,” said freshman South Dakota state Senator Red Dawn Foster (Lakota/Dine’). “Standing Rock was that shift in a collective consciousness and we are bringing a different worldview in, an Indigenous worldview in.”

South Dakota State senator Red Dawn Foster

Support isn’t restricted to those in the halls of power. Throughout reservations in the Dakotas, some of the Nation’s least wealthy communities, the idea of an economy that both limits the reach of fossil fuel companies and provides new jobs is taking root.

“We know…how important it is to save and protect Mother Earth, so we’re going to always be in the front lines for that,” said Madonna Thunder Hawk, who has spent her lifetime fighting for Native American rights as an original member of the American Indian Movement and co-founder of Women of All Red Nations. “That’s nothing new for us. But something like this, it has to take the whole country.”


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