Could A Democratic Win Mean the First Indigenous Secretary of Interior?

By Ashira Morris, ODP Contributing Writer

The Department of the Interior houses the Bureaus of Indian Affairs and Indian Education, but it has never been led by a Native American. Over the course of its 170-year history, the relationship between the government and the 578 federally recognized Indian tribes it manages has been fraught. “We have been living with the consequences of federal climate and environmental policy for decades,” wrote Shannon Holsey, President of the Stockbridge-Munsee Tribe,and Leonard Forsman, Chairman of the Suquamish Tribe, in a Reuters op-ed. “Yet, we have rarely been represented at the table when federal officials have decided our fate.” They’re among the Indigenous and environmental activists pushing a possible Biden administration to name the first Indigenous Secretary of the Interior. 

Why This Matters: The Department of the Interior manages nearly 20% of all land in the US, including National Parks and wildlife refuges — which, until they were designated as such, were Native landThe actions and decisions of the department are inextricably linked to solving the climate crisis. Indigenous communities are often the first to feel climate impacts, and tribal management of forests, fisheries, and agriculture is a path to a sustainable future. “From melting permafrost in Alaska and rising sea levels in coastal tribal communities in Maine and the Pacific Northwest to droughts and deadly wildfires across the West, Indian tribes have been the first Americans to feel the effects of climate change,” Holsey and Forsman write. “Indian country has so much to offer the entire Nation when it comes to collaborative resource management, climate policy, and environmental policy.”  

Undoing the Damage

For the past four years, the Trump administration has used DOI to wreck our public land, shrinking national monuments and allowing logging in national forests. Whoever takes over the job at the end of the Trump administration will need to reverse course and rebuild the department with a focus on expanding our protected land and water.

Rep. Deb Haaland Gets a Shoutout 

A recent survey by Data for Progress found that 78 percent of respondents would support a Native American nominee for Secretary of the Interior. Specifically, the op-ed authors call out New Mexico Representative Deb Haaland, a citizen of the Laguna Pueblo as a strong pick for the job. She already made history two years ago when she became one of the first two Native women elected to Congress. She’s already been a strong advocate for public lands and recently discussed the importance of tribal consultation in land management decision-making during an interview with New Mexico Political Report

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