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Correction: This column has been updated with the state Rep. Don Young represents.
In 2018, Congresswoman Deb Haaland, D-N.M., and I became the first two Native American women ever elected to Congress. Mere months later we stood proudly next to each other as we took our oath of office, keenly aware of the generations of Native women whose struggles and triumphs paved the way for this moment.
Now in 2021, with President Joe Biden's nomination of Haaland as secretary of the Interior, she’s poised to make history once again. If confirmed, it would mark the first time in our nation’s history that a Native person oversees a department tasked with protecting our federal lands, including the tens of millions of acres of Tribal land, and manages the unique relationship between the federal government and Tribal governments.
But to call this nomination historic fails to encapsulate how just profound this moment is. The history of the relationship between Tribes and the United States is complex, painful, and far too broad to convey in this piece alone. But it’s worth noting that until 1849, the Bureau of Indian Affairs was a part of the Department of War. The federal government’s interactions with Tribal nations and people were viewed through the prism of war.
The United States Senate now has the chance to confirm Rep. Haaland, a fierce advocate for Indian Country and a champion for our public lands, and demonstrate America's commitment to righting the injustices of the past.
Prepared and perfectly positioned
It’s a position Rep. Haaland is well prepared for. As someone who spent many years living, working, and organizing in Indian Country, Haaland brings a deep understanding of both the realities and the challenges that Native communities face across the country, because she’s lived them herself.
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As a leader on the House Natural Resources Committee, Haaland has worked across the aisle to achieve real victories for Indian Country — from getting legislation signed into law to address the crisis of murdered and missing Indigenous women to fighting for the conservation and preservation of public lands.
Her bipartisan approach in the House has earned her support from our Republicans colleagues — evidenced by her leadership of the bipartisan Congressional Native American Caucus working closely with co-chair Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., and by Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, who introduced the congresswoman at her confirmation hearing last week.
Haaland has also been a leader in the fight against climate change and has worked to increase the speed with which we grow our renewable energy sector — which helps to create good-paying jobs in the U.S. and protect our parks and wildlife for future generations.
Meanwhile, the loudest voices opposing Haaland so far seem to be senators who have taken millions of dollars from oil and gas special interests over their careers. They’ve attempted to distort her record of working across the aisle while standing up for the preservation of our public lands and natural resources — recognizing that the failure to do so will hurt us all.
Restore the trust of Tribes
The importance of this cabinet position to Indian Country cannot be overstated. The federal government must fulfill its trust responsibilities to Tribes — a well-established legal obligation that originates from long-standing treaty rights between the United States and Tribal governments. Despite this responsibility, and despite the historic injustices committed against Indigenous peoples in this country, there has never been a Native Cabinet secretary.
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During the last four years, we saw the dangers of leadership by those who do not understand the trust responsibility between the federal government and Tribes — those who advocate for a reservation's removal from the federal trust, who stand against the honoring of treaty rights, and who fail to adequately meet the needs of Tribal governments during the greatest public health crisis in a century.
We need an Interior secretary who will listen to Native voices, truly consult with Tribal governments, conserve our public lands, fight for environmental justice, and who knows how to work with people from both parties — and that’s Rep. Deb Haaland. I strongly encourage my colleagues in the Senate to confirm Haaland as our next secretary of the Interior.
Rep. Sharice Davids is the Democratic representative of Kansas’ Third Congressional District. A member of the Ho-Chunk Nation, she serves as vice chair of the Native American Caucus in Congress.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Rep. Deb Haaland will be an Interior secretary Indian Country can trust