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What Debra Haaland’s confirmation as interior secretary means to Native Americans

Debra Haaland's confirmation in the U.S. Senate Monday as secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior makes her the first-ever Native American to serve as a Cabinet secretary. She'll oversee energy and climate policy on millions of acres of public land, as well as the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Timothy Nuvangyaoma, chairman of the Hopi Tribe in Arizona, joins Lisa Desjardins to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As we reported earlier, the Senate confirmation of Congresswoman Deb Haaland to be U.S. interior secretary makes her the first ever Native American to serve as a Cabinet secretary.

    Lisa Desjardins reports.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    To understand this, we go to the Hopi Reservation in Northeast Arizona to speak to the tribe's chairman, Timothy Nuvangyaoma.

    First, on first on Deborah Haaland, she does have critics, especially in Western states, those who are concerned that she may shut down too much drilling or energy production for what they would like to see. What do you think of her? And what does this mean to you?

  • Timothy Nuvangyaoma:

    Well, in the Hopi Nation, we're extremely excited.

    And we're also really encouraged that, at this level, that she's been appointed to fill this very critical role. And I think that resonates across Native communities to have somebody to actually sit in that position that understands, through a tribal lens, what we are dealing with, and somebody that has that compassion to look at.

    Of course, there's always going to be some of those challenges that you just mentioned. But as stewards of the land, I know she has that overwhelming task of managing such a large land base, and really looking at ways to present the overall view of that, that is definitely going to protect and oversee these areas that she's been tasked with.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    What are the biggest issues on your reservation right now that any COVID relief money in particular could help with?

  • Timothy Nuvangyaoma:

    We have a number of different areas.

    But I'm going to focus on just a couple here, broadband infrastructure, electrical infrastructure, and water. I know the CDC keeps talking about having to wash your hands quite often, but out here on Hopi — and I'm not sure how many of the listening audience knows that — in several of our villages, we have water that has been polluted with arsenic, and are currently at three times the level of the allowable standards.

    So, when we come to this, and having fresh, clean water to consume has made it very challenging, because, with our executive orders to stay at home and try to — mitigating the movement out here, it's really pushed some of our community members to rely on that one source, which is, again, in my viewpoint, is poisoned water.

    So, we definitely want to make changes and make accessible clean drinking water to not only the several villages that are impacted, but reservation-wide. Nobody should have to deal with this.

    When Michigan got that national attention with their water situation, almost right away, still, Hopi, since the 1960s, has been dealing with this matter. We're finally getting a project to offset that, but we still have that water infrastructure that's needed across our Hopi Reservation.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    But on the topic of relief money, those billions of dollars in the American Rescue Plan also contain one provision that Republicans criticize in particular. It's $20 million going to Native American language preservation.

    What do you say to taxpayers and to Republicans who say that kind of money doesn't belong in a relief bill like this?

  • Timothy Nuvangyaoma:

    That is really important, because, before the Hopi people, our language is really our identity.

    And we are trying to strengthen key areas of continuation of our Native language out here on Hopi, which means that, with that disconnect with our broadband infrastructure and keeping up the education component of that has really made it difficult.

    Another portion to that is, we are heavily connected and remain connected to our culture and our tradition. So, coming at it from a Native lens, it's hard to explain to somebody unless you are sitting in our shoes and really, truly understand those dynamics.

    And that's been part of our struggle is, at the national level, there's been a lack of that education of who we really are as a people.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Timothy Nuvangyaoma, chairman of the Hopi Tribe, thank you so much for joining us.

  • Timothy Nuvangyaoma:

    And thank you. I appreciate being here.

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