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Bryan Newland (Bay Mills Indian Community) visited Arizona State University’s Tempe campus Monday to talk with students and tour a new library space. As assistant secretary of Indian affairs at the U.S. Department of the Interior, he was also there to discuss what the current administration is doing to help further the interests of Indian Country.

More importantly, he was there to listen.

[Editor's Note: This article was first publshed by ASU News. Used with permission. All rights reserved.]

“I know what it’s like to live in a community that often gets overlooked,” said Newland, who is a citizen of the Bay Mills Indian Community (Ojibwe) in Michigan, near the Canadian border. “It’s important to the people we serve to make sure that they are seen and heard, and not spending thousands of dollars to come and find us.”

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Appointed by President Joe Biden and confirmed by the U.S. Senate in 2021, Newland said he has logged thousands of miles to visit tribal communities around the country to discuss issues that are important to them.

Newland visited the Havasupai Tribe in the Grand Canyon and toured the campus of Northern Arizona University earlier this month. He returned Feb. 19 to the Phoenix area. He also made plans to visit with the Ak-Chin Indian Community to discuss water rights, the San Carlos Apache Tribe to address environmental issues and further expansion of their law enforcement programs, and the Goldwater Air National Guard Base to inquire how they’re serving the 22 federally recognized tribes in the state of Arizona and visit with tribal-affiliated members of the guard.

One ASU executive was glad Newland took the time to make a stop in Tempe and meet with Indigenous students.

“We are honored to have Assistant Secretary Newland on campus this week to spend some time with our students, staff and faculty,” said Jacob Moore, ASU vice president and special advisor to the president on American Indian affairs. “It’s helpful for our students to interact with high-level policy officials that not only come from tribal communities, but also overcame challenges in their own academic journeys and are willing to share their stories and offer words of encouragement.”


Newland’s visit comes on the heels of a recent remodeling of the Labriola National American Indian Data Center in recognition of its importance to Indigenous students, faculty and staff. Some of the topics he covered were education, water rights, pollution, advocacy, missing and murdered Indigenous women, and what the current administration is doing to help Native peoples and students.

“One of the things that makes me proud of working in President Biden’s administration is that we’ve never had a Native person serving in the president’s Cabinet before,” said Newland, referring to U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, who made history in 2021 when she became the first Native American to serve as a Cabinet secretary.

“He and his administration and Secretary Haaland have made it a point of putting Native people in political appointments across the federal government. You don’t have to go into a meeting with them and say, ‘Here’s what it's like on the rez' or ‘Here’s what it means to be in an Indian tribe.’ Native people in these positions who don’t need that tutorial can now hit the ground running.”

Newland said the current administration is also putting its money where its mouth is by financially lifting Indigenous peoples and programs. He said in the last two years, the Biden administration has made a $45 billion investment in Indian Country through several bills and acts that address infrastructure, broadband internet, water and irrigation systems, and Indian-owned businesses.

“Money and investment are going towards things that are important to tribal communities,” said Newland, who served as a counselor and policy advisor to the assistant secretary of the interior for Indian affairs from 2009 to 2012 under President Barack Obama. “That’s money going to Indian-owned construction firms, Native artists, chefs and caterers, folks in urban communities, tribal communities and all across the country.”

Newland said his department is also addressing social issues head on, including the continued enforcement of National American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, which protects the human remains of ancestors from tribal communities; pushing museums to consult with and get consent from tribes to display cultural items and sacred objects; and carrying out a fairly new Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative instituted under Haaland.

“This will hold the federal government accountable for their role in operating assimilationist boarding schools across the country,” said Newland, who earned his Juris Doctor from Michigan State University College of Law. “This allows Indigenous people to tell federal officials what was done to them and their families at these schools.”

While Newland listed the strides his office has made in a short amount of time, he admitted future generations will have their work cut out for them and need to be ready.

“I don’t care what tribe you are, it’s almost inherent in our values to take on generational work,” Newland said. “The work you’re doing today will benefit your kids and grandkids. I would encourage Native students to pick up that generational work. Some of it’s in progress. Some of you will carry the load for a little bit and pass it on.”

Michelle Hovel of the Navajo Nation said she has carried that load for a long time.

“It feels like I’ve been fighting issues for the past 30 years, and it’s tiring. It feels like it’s not going to end. We’ve always been in survival mode,” said Hovel, an advocate and ASU student who will graduate with a master’s degree in criminology later this year. “I appreciate the assistant secretary of Indian affairs coming to ASU because to have someone in his position come out to talk about his work really touches me as a student and advocate. All of the issues he spoke of today truly affects us.”

Alex Soto, director of the Labriola Center, said Newland’s visit was a nice affirmation.

“Based on what he (Newland) shared today, it just affirms the work we’re doing at the Labriola Center and overall at ASU Library. As Native peoples, we need to take the lead, to make spaces within places that were never designed for us,” Soto said. “At times, it can be challenging because we’re the only ones advocating for ourselves, but his message today was that we need more Native peoples in the institution. Hopefully his visit showed our Native students that once we are in these roles, we are best suited to advocate for Indigenous self-determination and sovereignty.”

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