On Wednesday, the National Congress of American Indians convened an emergency meeting resulting in its public urging for the immediate confirmation of Congresswoman Deb Haaland to Secretary of the Department of the Interior, amid a growing chorus of pushback from Republican senators.

“The U.S. Department of the Interior carries out a broad range of responsibilities, including the management of public lands, water resources, minerals, wildlife management, and cultural heritage preservation,” the draft letter addressed to Senate Leadership reads. “Additionally, it is charged and entrusted with upholding the federal trust and treaty responsibilities to the 574 tribal nations and more than 5.2 million American Indians and Alaska Natives. As a result of these unique fiduciary and trust obligation to tribal nations, it is time that the ranks of Interior’s leaders finally include a voice from the community whose day-to-day lives it impacts most.”

Haaland, a Congresswoman from New Mexico and a citizen of Laguna Pueblo, was nominated by President Joe Biden to head the Interior Department in December. If confirmed by the Senate, she will make history as the first Native American cabinet member.

But a growing number of Republican House members have joined in opposition to the nomination, citing concerns that Haaland is too “radical” and that environmental policies she supports, such as the Green New Deal, will eliminate extraction industry jobs and harm economies in certain districts. The House does not vote on cabinet nominations.

But in its emergency meeting with tribal nations yesterday, NCAI President Fawn Sharp (Quinault Indian Nation) said the organization is aiming to educate lawmakers and the general public about Haaland’s bipartisan record.

“I'm very confident that Deb Haaland would look to the the best possible public policies in a way to manage our resources that honor public trust, that will heed the advice and recommendations of subject matter experts and make decisions that are objective, fair and ultimately designed (with) an eye to preserving our natural landscape for many generations to come,” Sharp told Native News Online.

The letter sites Haaland’s bi-partisan record, including her co-sponsorship of more bipartisan bills than any other freshman legislator in 2019; her services on the House Native American Caucus, the House Committee on Natural Resources, Subcommittee on National Parks, Forest and Public Lands,  the Indigenous Peoples Subcommittee, and the House Armed Services Committee. “Her House leadership in shepherding a bipartisan public lands package in 2019 and the Great American Outdoors Act in 2020 illustrates her commitment to the stewardship of the nation’s resources and directly correlates with the duties and responsibilities of the Secretary of Interior,” the letter reads.

Also on Wednesday, NCAI sent a letter to several members of the U.S. Senate and urged that they immediately take up the confirmation of Haaland as Interior secretary. “Right now, Interior has no Secretary nor Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs to direct its policy. This Administration’s executive leadership is needed at Interior immediately to address these needs, and to begin implementing this Administration’s plan for Tribal Nations – a large piece of which includes comprehensive coronavirus response policies. These urgent self-governance needs cannot wait,” the letter said. 

In response to House member’s critique that Haaland will eliminate jobs in her support of environmental legislation, an oil and gas moratorium and opposition toward the Keystone XL pipeline, Sharp said NCAI believes there is already an emerging economy in sustainable development. 

“If we work together toward a transition away from fossil fuels, to that new and emerging economy that can be done in a very strategic, inclusive way to ensure that not only are there jobs available, but jobs that are clean for the environment,” she said. “And that's not going to be done by the government alone, that is going to be accomplished through public private partnerships.”

Sharp encourages readers who support Haaland’s nomination to sign on to NCAI’s letter, found here. Additionally, she said, supporters should send their own letters to Senate leadership in their district.

“I would really emphasize that we have to educate people about the importance of the role, to not only serve this generation, but future generations,” Sharp said. “And that's something that no one can disagree with. No one can disagree with the fact that any Secretary of Interior has a sacred public duty and trust to preserve and protect the federal lands in a way that future generations will have the same opportunity.”

More Stories Like This

San Manuel Band of Mission Indians Surprises Native Nonprofits with $1M in Donations on #GivingTuesday
Biden Affirms Commitment to Tribal Nations, Announces New Initiatives at White House Tribal Nations Summit
PHOTOS: The White House Tribal Nations Summit
WATCH: The White House Tribal Nations Summit 
Tribal Leaders to Attend First In-person White House Tribal Nations Summit in Six Years

You’re reading the first draft of history. 

November is  Native American Heritage Month in the United States. We feel like every month — and every day — is a reason for celebrating Native Americans and our heritage. That’s what we try to do here at Native News Online, with stories each day that celebrate, inform and uplift American Indian and Alaska Native people. Over the past year or so, we have been especially busy with three important reporting projects that are having an impact across Indian Country:

  • Indian Boarding Schools. We’ve reported and published more than 150 stories and special live stream video events to help shine a light on the dark era of boarding schools — and help create momentum for change.
  • Native Health Desk. Launched in January, this reporting initiative was created to heighten awareness of Native American health inequities and spotlight pockets of progress in Indian Country. So far we’ve reported and published nearly 120 stories and launched a monthly health newsletter that reaches more than 23,000 readers.  
  • Native Bidaske. In March, we launched this live stream interview program to highlight the work of Native Americans who are making news and leading change in Indian Country.  We have hosted guests from the federal government and Native rights advocates as well as Indigenous actors, comedians, journalists and models.   

We hope you will join us in celebrating Native American heritage and history this November and invite you to consider the old adage that “Journalism is the first draft of history.” If you appreciate the voice Native News Online gives to Native American people, we hope you will support our work with a donation so we can build our newsroom and continue to amplify Native voices and Native perspectives.

Any contribution — big or small — helps us remain a force for change in Indian Country and continue telling the stories that are so often ignored, erased or overlooked.  Most often, our donors make a one-time gift of $20 or more, while many choose to make a recurring monthly donation of $5 or $10.  Whatever you can do, it helps fund our Indigenous-led newsroom and our ability to cover Native news. 

Donate to Native News Online today and support independent Indigenous journalism. Thank you. 

About The Author
Jenna Kunze
Author: Jenna KunzeEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Staff Writer
Jenna Kunze is a staff reporter covering Indian health, the environment and breaking news for Native News Online. She is also the publication's lead reporter on stories related to Indian boarding schools and repatriation. Her bylines have appeared in The Arctic Sounder, High Country News, Indian Country Today, Tribal Business News, Smithsonian Magazine, Elle and Anchorage Daily News. Kunze is based in New York.