Tribes Praise Haaland Interior Sec. Appointment, Some Threaten Backlash

Posted on: March 16, 2021, 05:14h. 

Last updated on: March 16, 2021, 10:30h.

Indigenous tribes across America welcomed the appointment Monday of Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) as President Joe Biden’s Interior Secretary. Following a historic 51-40 vote in the Senate, Haaland becomes the first Native American to serve as a presidential cabinet secretary. She is an enrolled member of the Laguna Pueblo.

Deb Haaland at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources in February. Haaland is the first Native American to serve as a presidential cabinet secretary. (Image: Sarah Silbiger/Getty)

Haaland will head up the US Department of the Interior. The federal body has more involvement in tribal affairs than any other department.

She will oversee the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), which is responsible for implementing federal laws and policies related to America’s roughly two million indigenous people across 574 recognized tribes.

The BIA administers more than 55,700,000 acres of land held in trust by the US federal government for the tribes.

It also makes key decisions on land in-trust-applications by tribes seeking to build new casinos, and it ratifies gaming compacts agreed between tribal and state governments.

Democratic Excitement, Republican Skepticism

Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Haaland’s confirmation “represents a gigantic step forward in creating a government that represents the full richness and diversity of this country.”

Native Americans, for far too long, have been neglected at the cabinet-level and in so many other places,” he added.

Tribal Chairman Kenneth Kahn, chairman of the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, told The LA Times that tribes across the nation “prayed this day would come.” But he said while there is excitement, there is also skepticism.

“There’s a lot of healing that needs to be done,” he explained.

While Haaland’s appointment had bipartisan backing, a sizable faction of Republicans opposed it, citing her purported “extremist views.”

These relate to her support for the Green New Deal, a set of social and economic reforms designed to combat the impact of climate change. They also note her opposition to the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

Speaking to Roll Call Monday, Rodney Butler chairman of Connecticut’s Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, which owns Foxwoods Resort Casino, said the tribes would not easily forget those who so fiercely opposed Haaland.

Tribal Backlash

Successful gaming operations have made some tribes powerful employers and political donors, especially in states like California, Oklahoma, and Connecticut. Butler and others suggested tribes could withhold campaign donations where they see fit.

Tribes have become a political force, with the economic success tribes have had in various industries,” said Butler.

“So we have political influence. We have votes that move presidential elections, and economic success to put our money where our mouth is, and we’ll absolutely remember those senators who attacked her,” he continued.

Roll Call noted that several Republicans opposed Haaland despite having benefited from tribal donations, including Sens. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) and John Barrasso (R-Wyo.).

According to Roll Call, Daines received $2,800 from the Mashantucket Pequots and more than $35,000 more from other tribes during his reelection campaign last year.