Debra Haaland is making history in America.
The 60-year-old congresswoman from New Mexico will become the first indigenous cabinet secretary in U.S. history next month when she assumes responsibility for the nation’s land and natural resources as head of the Interior Department under Joe Biden.
Haaland is a member of Laguna Pueblo, one of the 567 sovereign tribal nations located in 35 states. According to the 2010 census, 5.2 million people or about 2% of the US population identify as American Indian or Alaska Native, descendants of those who survived US government policies. kill, expel or assimilate indigenous peoples.
In January, it will also be Haaland’s job to uphold the government’s legally binding obligations to the tribes, treaty obligations that have been systematically violated with devastating consequences for life expectancy, political participation and economic opportunities in the Indian country.
In an interview days before her nomination, Haaland told The Guardian that as secretary of the interior she “would advance the priorities of climate change, tribal consultation and a green economic recovery.”
It’s a big job with high expectations after four years of racist rhetoric and destructive environmental pushbacks by the Trump administration, which showed contempt for the climate or the environment by giving the green light to fossil fuel projects to heat planets on public lands. and tribal with little regard for culture. and sites of ecological importance.
“I will be fierce for all of us, for our planet and for all our protected land,” Haaland said in his acceptance speech. “This moment is profound when we consider the fact that a former Interior Secretary once proclaimed that his goal was, to quote, ‘civilize or exterminate us.’ I am a living testimony to the failure of that horrible ideology. “
Indigenous communities in the US and around the world are disproportionately vulnerable to the impact of the climate crisis, such as rising sea levels and droughts, and environmental hazards that result from polluting industries. As home secretary, Haaland will play a key role in undoing Trump’s setbacks and will also be a key lieutenant on Biden’s new climate team.
This is not the first time that Haaland has made history. In 2018, it became one of the first two native women in Congress, alongside Sharice Davids from Kansas. In January, a record six Native Americans, four Democrats and two Republicans, will take office.
Representation and diversity are important, according to Haaland, because life experiences shape political decisions. “We don’t need people who have the same perspective, we need people from various parts of the country, who have been raised in different ways, who bring that history and culture with them, and use what we have learned from their parents and grandparents, and put everything that is at stake in the decisions we make, ”he told The Guardian.
It has been a difficult road for Haaland, who, like a disproportionate number of Native Americans, has experienced homelessness and relied on food stamps. It is also the product of racist policies such as the forcible expulsion of thousands of native children from their families between 1860 and 1978. At the age of eight, Haaland’s grandmother was sent to a Catholic boarding school for five years a hundred miles from her home.
“There are many people in this country who suffered a historical trauma from that time. I carry that story with me, I am a product of the assimilation policy of the United States. I firmly believe that having this perspective is very important for the issues we bring to Congress. “
Haaland was elected to the House of Representatives in 2018 after campaigning under the slogan: “Congress has never heard a voice like mine.” Since then, she has introduced legislation that would establish a truth commission on Native American boarding schools and spearheaded two laws to combat the epidemic of missing and murdered Indian women – crimes increasingly linked to transient extractive industry workers living in the calls men’s camps near or on tribal lands.
“Indigenous women have been missing and murdered since Europeans arrived on this continent in the late 15th century. Violence against women is one of my priorities. It will not be solved with just two laws, but now is the time to go deeper and continue working, ”he said.
Haaland will be the highest-ranking Native American in the United States government since Republican Charles Curtis, a member of the Kaw Nation located in what is now Kansas, who served as Herbert Hoover’s vice president between 1929 and 1933.
She will be part of a government facing unprecedented complex and interconnected challenges, including an out-of-control pandemic, a global economic downturn, escalating hunger and the climate emergency.
Haaland’s record of working across party lines may also prove vital to Biden’s success, at a time when the country and lawmakers are deeply divided.
She said, “I’ve gotten more Republicans to sign my bills than any other Democrat. It is important to all of us – county commissioners, governors and mayors, not just Congress – to make sure that we are working together for the common good. We want to pass laws that help people across the country, and we need to make sure these messages get out … I will continue to walk down the hall to protect our environment and make sure vulnerable communities have a voice in what our country does. is doing to move forward.
The 70,000 employees of the Department of the Interior oversee one fifth of all lands in the U.S. and 1.7 billion acres of coastline, as well as managing national parks, wildlife refuges, and natural resources like gas, oil, and water.
A shift in priorities in the department of the interior could have major implications for global warming a quarter of all US carbon emissions They come from fossil fuels mined on public lands, according to the United States Geological Survey.
Earlier this year, Haaland sponsored an invoice That would set a national goal of protecting 30% of America’s lands and oceans by 2030, a plan since adopted by the Biden administration as a priority for its environmental agenda.
“Environmental injustice and economic injustice have taken hold of so many communities and they have had enough. They want us to pay attention and help them succeed … As far as the indigenous country is concerned, I want to make sure that tribal leaders, and all marginalized communities, have a seat at the table. “
In stark contrast to Trump, Haaland believes that Biden will consult Native Americans, as the government is legally obligated to do. “I am sure that this president will pay attention to the Indian country, which is why I think so many [Native Americans] He went out to vote and helped him win Arizona and Wisconsin. “
Restoring the protections eroded by Trump for Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, national monuments in southern Utah that are sacred to Native Americans, is a priority for Haaland.
The November elections were held after a summer of unprecedented protests demanding racial justice, sparked by the death of George Floyd, a black man in Minneapolis who was killed by a white policeman who knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
Progressive Democrats, including Haaland and the so-called Squad, made up of Congressmen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib, raised protesters’ demands for radical structural changes to eradicate racial inequalities in health, housing, immigration and education. , employment and the environment.
“So many Native Americans joined the Black Lives Matter protests because Indian Country recognized that we are allies in the fight for environmental justice, economic justice, and racial justice … These front-line communities deserve to have the resources to be able to get up, ”Haaland said.
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