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President-elect Joe Biden is nominating Representative Deb Haaland to lead the Department of Interior. If confirmed, she would become the first Native American to lead the agency, which is responsible for public lands, including land taken from Indigenous people. Julian Brave Noisecat, vice president of policy and strategy for Data for Progress, joins.
For more on the announcement of Representative Deb Haaland to President-elect Joe Biden's cabinet, I'm joined by Julian Brave Noisecat, vice president of policy and strategy at Data for Progress, a progressive think tank.
Julian, besides the fact that this is the first Native American at a cabinet level position, why is this nomination so significant for so many Native American communities?
Julian Brave Noisecat:
I think Congresswoman Haaland said it best today during her acceptance speech for the position of secretary of Interior when she said, you know, that this moment is profound because a prior secretary of Interior described his job as to, quote, "exterminate, civilize or exterminate us and us being Native people."
And when you think about the weight of that history and what this department has done to native people, to native lands, I get goosebumps just just thinking about what this means.
Tribal communities were part of Joe Biden's victory, especially in states like Arizona. But throughout the country, there's actually a fair amount of bipartisan voting by members of tribes.
Yes. So exit polls in the 2020 election suggest that Native voters preferred the Democratic Party by about 25 points. So there is definitely a lean towards the liberal party, though not as significant as among other racial groups. What I would say is that if you look at any sort of map of, say, Montana or South Dakota, sort of western state with a large Native population, what you'll see is that the reservations are like little islands of blue in giant oceans of red. And because of that, tribal leaders have had to cultivate relationships across the aisle with Republicans for many generations and are actually very effective at working with Republican Party leaders.
Is there any indication on what she would do in this position? I know that she had been running for leadership positions in the House, but if she and when she takes this role on, there are also members of tribal communities that are asking for the Department of Interior to start to return some lands back to them.
Absolutely. So you know, I think that there is this growing movement for land return for Native people and of course, the policies implemented by the next secretary of Interior, hopefully, Congressman Haaland, once she's nominated and confirmed, will will help advance that vision.
At the same time, you know, I think that she's going to be leaned on pretty significantly to meet the administration's climate and environmental goals. Public lands are right now open to fossil fuel drilling and leasing, which is something that Biden has promised to end.
And there's also, of course, a need to build renewable energy on public lands, as well as to conserve and protect our environment and many of those programs will run through hopefully soon, Madam Secretary Haaland.
As you wrote a recent profile of her. What is the secret? What keeps her going? What keeps her motivated?
I really think that when she spoke today about the resilience of her family, of her ancestors, I do believe that it's not the, it's not the degrees or anything else like that. But it's really the lived experience of of being a single mother on food stamps, someone whose grandparents were sent away to assimilationists boarding schools, someone who started a small salsa business on her reservation.
You know, just someone who is really salt of the Earth, who went to Standard Rock in 2016 and cooked for people who were in the camps in the path of the Dakota Access pipeline. I think it's those sorts of experiences at the end of the day, more so than anything else, that that drives her and have brought her to to this historic moment.
Cabinet positions are prized. There's a lot of competition that happens behind the scenes. How did Congresswoman Haaland get to this?
I think it's worth pointing out that Congresswoman Haaland was never a shoo0in for this job. And she is a relative newcomer here in Washington. It was just her first term in Congress. And unlike many of the other folks who have been put forward and nominated for cabinet positions, she does not have a long standing relationship with President-elect Biden, which is, I think, very important to the president-elect.
And despite those sort of concerns and also concerns about the very thin House Democratic majority, a very concerted and effective effort led by tribal leaders, environmentalists and progressive activists actually systematically, both in public and behind the scenes, was able to get her across the finish line and to make history. And, you know, I think that that is just a testament to what an incredible leader she is.
Folks like me and folks who have strong beliefs, injustice, justice, etc., aren't just going to go out there and advocate for anyone.
All right, Julian Brave Noisecat, thanks so much for joining us.
Thanks so much for having me.
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