WASHINGTON – A coalition of Democrats, Native Americans and Liberal activists are calling on President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. to appoint one of the first Native American women in Congress to head the Home Office and bring an Native American under control of much of the continent and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
The appointment of Representative Deb Haaland, Democrat of New Mexico, as Secretary of the Interior would have undeniable symbolism. If confirmed, a Native American would, for the first time, monitor 500 million acres of public land, including national parks, oil and gas wells, and endangered species habitats, and control the federal agencies most responsible for the welfare of the country’s 1.9 million Indigenous people.
Ms. Haaland and Sharice Davids of Kansas made history Elected the first two Native American women to Congress in 2018, and Ms. Haaland would do so again as the first Native American cabinet secretary. However, their lack of political experience worries some Biden advisors who have proposed another Native American candidate: Michael L. Connor, Assistant Secretary of the Interior for the Obama administration, whose experience is beyond dispute even if he lacks the star power of Ms. Haaland.
Ms. Haaland is a citizen of Laguna Pueblo, and Mr. Connor is from the Taos Pueblo, sovereign nations located near Albuquerque and Taos that are among the 574 nationally recognized tribes in the country.
For any candidate, one nomination would be a tremendous power to Native Americans. The Ministry of the Interior has ruled federal states for much of the country’s history and has often ousted and abused Indians. In 1972, about 500 Native American activists took over the division’s headquarters in Washington to protest living standards and broken contracts.
The next home secretary will also be tasked with restoring environmental protection to the millions of acres of public land the Trump administration has opened up for drilling, mining, logging and construction.
Historians and Native American leaders said the appointment of a Native American to head the Home Office would be a profound moment in American history.
“The Home Office was the driving force behind today’s genocide of the Indian peoples,” said Elizabeth Kronk Warner, dean and professor of law at the University of Utah and a citizen of Sault Ste. Marie tribe of the Chippewa Indians. “We would move from the shadows of ongoing genocide to a chair at the table, from a group of people the federal government was trying to destroy, to a president who says, ‘I see you and I appreciate you to the point that I am you to the highest level of decision making in the country. ‘
A spokesman for the Biden transition team, Sean Savett, said no personnel decisions were made regarding the Home Office. But Mr. Biden’s election promises included detailed suggestions for improving Native American equality, including a promise that “Biden will ensure tribes have a seat at the table at the highest levels of federal government”.
Tribal and environmental activists are pushing him to get through.
The Lakota People’s Law Action Center has one petition, supported by more than 120 tribal leaders, in support of Ms. Haaland.
“More than a year before, 2020 has shown us what happens when we do not realize the importance of empowering the right leaders to protect society,” the petition said.
A separate one Petition launched by liberal activists and signed by at least 25,000 people, also calls on Mr. Biden to appoint a Native American Secretary of the Interior.
Actor and environmental lawyer Mark Ruffalo has a Video on Twitter with tribal leaders speaking in support of Ms. Haaland.
“It is time for the first Native American to serve in the president’s cabinet to uphold tribal sovereignty and protect our public lands as home secretaries,” said Brandon Yellowbird-Stevens, vice chairman of the Oneida Nation, on the video.
The transition of the president
Representative Raúl Grijalva, the Arizona Democrat who chairs the Home Office Committee, sent a letter signed by at least 50 colleagues to Mr Biden, urging the appointment of Ms. Haaland, who has been on the Committee for natural resources active by Mr. Grijalva is arriving at the Congress last year.
“The Ministry of the Interior was essentially set up not to care about indigenous peoples – it was set up to tear them down and withdraw their rights,” Grijalva said in an interview. “To close the historical circle and put an indigenous person inside who can do the job, you don’t often get the opportunity to make history.”
Mr. Grijalva pushed back on the suggestion that Ms. Haaland was not qualified for the job.
“It’s not a window dressing,” he said. “She is competent. She is both politically and politically a professional and a member of the Resource Committee and Chair of the Public Land Subcommittee She had to endure the abuse of the Home Office by the Trump administration. “
Ms. Haaland made it clear that she wanted the job.
“It would be an honor to advance the Biden Harris climate change agenda, restore government-government relations with the tribes destroyed by the Trump administration and serve as the first Native American cabinet secretary in our nation’s history,” she said in a Statement.
Mrs. Haaland fought against the tough immigration policy of the Trump administration in 2018 and promoted indigenous sovereignty as “35th generation New Mexicans”. She argues that many of the problems that affect indigenous communities – such as low-wage jobs and violence against women – affect other groups as well.
In 2015, she became chair of the State Democratic Party and helped bring the New Mexico State House under democratic control.
As the child of military veterans, she attended 13 public schools before graduating from high school, then started a salsa company and worked as a cake decorator before venturing through college and law school with grocery stamps and student loans.
But some people advising Mr Biden are concerned about the management at one of the most extensive agencies of the federal governmentwhich oversees nature conservation and oil and gas drilling on public land and off the coast of the country; a huge network of dams and reservoirs to the west;; the Fish and Wildlife Service, a large federal science agency; the US Geological Survey; and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Bureau of Indian Education, and the Bureau of Trust Funds Administration, which manage the financial assets of the Indians held in trust.
They also fear that Ms. Haaland’s confirmation in a cabinet post would temporarily reduce the already slim majority of Democrats in the House of Representatives – until a special election could take place in her Democratic District.
These people support Mr. Connor’s appointment.
In a statement sent via email, Connor wrote, “It would be an honor to work in the Biden Harris administration and carry out the important work needed to address the country’s most pressing challenges.”
Mr. Connor served in the agency throughout the Clinton administration, including four years as director of the Secretary’s Indian Water Rights Office, and led tribal-federal negotiations on water issues. He later worked for former Senator Jeff Bingaman, Democrat of New Mexico, on land, water, energy, and Native American issues before returning to inland during the Obama administration to become the first Native American to hold a second post.
“It’s more about who has the qualifications than who the public face is,” said Sianna Lieb, a progressive activist who co-founded the petition and asked Mr. Biden to nominate a Native American to serve as home secretary. “Having been in the interior department is a good start – the qualifications know how to run the department.”