Speaker My name is Deb Holland, and I am proud to represent the first district of New Mexico.

Speaker Thank you so much.

Speaker I was reading a little bit about your family, your father being a 30 year Marine, that Silver Star in Vietnam, also being a Navy that was their life or how you were raised in terms of the whole idea of public service. How did you get to the idea of really wanting to be a congressional representative?

Speaker So so. So both my parents, they voted every time, but they weren't necessarily political. They if they had any political ideas, they didn't discuss them with us as kids.

Speaker But I can tell you, I was inspired by I remember one year, 2002, that Senator Tim Johnson won because of the Indian vote in South Dakota that they thought he had lost.

Speaker In the next day, votes from the Lakota reservations came in and put him over the top and he won.

Speaker And I felt I was inspired to think that the Native American vote means something.

Speaker Right. And so that's what inspired me to start working in Indian country to get folks out to vote.

Speaker It's interesting, I had an opportunity last week to interview a daughter and she made a comment that said something like, there's this perception or stereotype that indigenous people, that the native people of this country are somehow disappearing. And I think the statement you just made is a beautiful testimony to the fact that not only is that not true, but that there is actually power in Indian country.

Speaker Absolutely. Absolutely. I was I was thinking about a little blurb I read. I think it was in like USA Today 20 years ago that talked about the you know, the the tribes who live at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, sending their their ballots up by donkey of the Grand Canyon. So for and, you know, for centuries we have. Can I do that again? Of course. Sending their votes up by donkey from the bottom of the Grand Canyon in New Mexico. We had Miguel Trujillo, who actually sued the state of New Mexico for our right to vote in New Mexico. We gain that right to vote in state elections in nineteen forty eight. So we've all Indians have wanted to be a part of this system for a long, long time. We've had many activists, political activists, fighting for our right to fish, for our right to water, for our right to to our lands. And so I think that, you know, for the most part, some folks have chosen not to listen to us, but we keep fighting.

Speaker And and so so you're part of a very active tradition. And I guess that culminated in twenty eighteen when you were one of the first two native women elected to the U.S. Congress. So how did that field I mean, what was I know that in some ways, the fact that people made a lot of that or talk about it in terms of first, you know, that there's a long tradition of people who preceded you. So for you internally, how did how did that feel?

Speaker Well, I feel so first of all, there have been like I stand on the shoulders of so many women. I'm not the first native woman to run for Congress. There were like seven native women who ran for Congress before me who weren't successful for whatever reason. So I recognize that it's something that we've been trying to do for a while. After I won my election in November of twenty eighteen, of course, you realize the gravity of such a position.

Speaker You immediately have a lot of responsibility and obligation.

Speaker So in a way that, like all the work that I had to do, hiring people to work in my office and all of those things, those sort of took precedence over my, you know, what did I just do? Right. Although I at one point was interviewed by a journalist after I won my election and he was talking about Barack Obama winning.

Speaker And I was all over that I. Worked on both campaigns, I, I, I organized Indian country in New Mexico to vote for Barack Obama because I just felt, yes, I want to be a part of this, the first African-American president.

Speaker So when I look at it in those terms, it was hard for me to think of myself as a first in that way.

Speaker But but now that I've been in office for almost a year, I have tribal leaders from all over the country coming to visit me and talking about the issues that are important to them. And and I I definitely feel that I am here for all of Indian country as well as my district.

Speaker It is also interesting that you entered the Congress at a time that was really historic in terms of it being the most diverse, the most women and most women being elected for the first time. So do you also a lot and a lot of women of color also. So do you have a sense of cohort? Do you do you have a sense of collaboration?

Speaker Oh, absolutely. We're we all have each other's backs. We've we see you know, we see each other pretty much every single day on the floor of the House. We get together occasionally to talk about the issues that are important to our districts and how we can help each other. We sign on to each other's bills. And so, yes, there there is a sense of, you know, I'm very proud to be in this class, this historic class of the number of women who were elected in twenty eighteen. And so I want to I want to make sure that that we keep it that way, that we elect more women to Congress, because I think that will be important. This is this is a large class.

Speaker And we are absolutely you know, we feel united on so many fronts and so we'll just keep working together.

Speaker Can you tell me some of the causes that you've decided that you do want to remain and be active in? That may be continuation of work you've done before, but which you really see as your signature.

Speaker So the issues that are important to me, I ran on the environment, the number one issue in my campaign in twenty eighteen, the twenty eighteen cycle was the environment, climate change, moving renewable energy forward not only in my state but across the country. And I have been able to champion a lot of issues currently where I have a bill that will get will come to the floor soon regarding protections of my ancestral homeland of Chako Canyon, protecting the National Park, a ten mile radius within the national park from BLM selling leases for gas and oil drilling. We need to we need to protect our public lands. Currently, our public lands emit about twenty five percent of the carbon emissions in our country, which is extremely high. And that's because there's so many extractive industries leasing the lands on our public lands. So we need to find a way to make sure that we are curbing our carbon emissions, that we're protecting our public lands. We need to have those lands for generations to come.

Speaker One of the first times I really became aware of you and your activism, this is before you came to Congress, I was actually doing some research for a PBS series and looking at this this issue of missing and murdered indigenous women. And I know that this is also a cause you've been active in. And it seems as if Canada has taken a really an important stand in the US. We do have a national day of awareness. But what do you think it's going to really take for people to really understand the impact and magnitude of this comes?

Speaker So we absolutely need to keep talking about it. And the legislation that that we are moving forward in Congress and in the Senate will do just that. You know, we have to realize that missing and murdered indigenous women, it hasn't just you know, it hasn't just occurred over the last several generations. It's been since European contact that native women have been kidnapped, brutalized, assaulted, raped, all of these things. It's it's just that, you know, we've never stopped to realize that we needed to do something about it. And for several generations, this has been an issue that hasn't seen the light of day. There hasn't been enough media about it. You know, we've the latest one of the most recent cases, and it's Savannah Grey Wind for whom the Senate bill was named after Savannah's act.

Speaker She was kidnapped from her apartment and murdered and her body thrown in the river and her baby taken from her. She we didn't hear about that. It wasn't on any news feed for an entire week. So we have to speak up for these women. It's time that we do everything we can to move forward.

Speaker And I will do everything I can to be outspoken about the about missing and murdered indigenous women so that we can move this legislation forward. I feel very strongly that I have a lot of colleagues on both sides of the aisle that are concerned with this issue. So I am we'll just keep moving it forward.

Speaker Thank you. I'm sorry. I'm getting a little closer. I should not be the one disrupting the recording. That's OK. I'm just going to put my water up just in case. So how do you feel as a woman, especially women of color, that you're being received and perceived in the halls of Congress?

Speaker So are there are there things that you find really encouraging about kind of operating in that space? And are there ways in which you really feel challenged?

Speaker Well, I I felt very welcomed here.

Speaker Many of my colleagues recognize that my voice has been important. And in fact, there there's been several issues where I've been able to.

Speaker Shed some light on the realities of of the trust responsibility that the United States has to Indian tribes, and because some folks don't realize what that is. And and so I feel like it's my duty, of course, to speak up, to make sure that the issues that we need to move forward, move forward in that lens. We have to the United States does have a responsibility, trust, responsibility to Indian tribes. Congress has plenary power over Indian tribes, which means that we are responsible for being informed and moving any legislation forward with the best interests of Indian tribes at heart. And so that means, of course, that we're bringing tribal leaders to the table when we have hearings on climate change or public lands. We should be hearing from tribes. They should be at the table adding their voice to the conversation.

Speaker So right now, even with, as you said, the record number of women coming in, we are still vastly outnumbered. Twenty three percent of the house and twenty five percent of the Senate. Do you have a sense of that imbalance also when you're doing this work?

Speaker Well, the sense sort of it's it's just it's not necessarily a sense you could actually see it with your own eyes. Right. So it's a stark reality when you when you are on the House, on the floor of the House and all the members of their voting, you can see how many men there are as compared to women. So I just you know, we're still we're still not there. Of course, we were, I believe was half the population of this country. We should be represented that way in in every level of government.

Speaker Sorry. No, it's OK. I'm just getting your shoulder a little bit later. Oh, OK. Should we start that over again? I'm afraid so, yes. I'm sorry.

Speaker OK, that's OK. So, yes, I've been I've been extremely welcomed by my colleagues here. We you know, it's a stark reality to see that that we're not half the population here in Congress. When we're all on the floor together, you can see that the men outnumber the women. And I believe we're about 50 percent of the population of women in this country. So we should be represented by 50 percent of women in Congress, in the Senate. We should be represented as CEOs and and chair women of boards. So we we do have a long way to go. But I am you know, I'm going to support the women I can and make sure that we can continue to move those numbers up.

Speaker The project that you've agreed to be part of is going to leave by 2020. We're looking at women over a century ago, between 1890 in 1920, before women, before white women actually legally had the right to vote, who did really extraordinary things. And so the whole title of the series Unladylike is taken from a journalist whose name was Louise Bryant, who basically said, I don't want I don't want to be categorized as or being confined by some dimension of what ladylike means. So we're asking everybody that we're interviewing to really describe in their own terms, in their own definition, what is being unladylike mean to you unladylike and what is being unladylike mean to me?

Speaker Well, what is being unladylike mean to me, or are there ways in which you feel like you've accomplished things or pushed the envelope by being.

Speaker I'm sure. Sure. So I as a Pueblo woman, I'm a member of the Laguna Pueblo, a very proud member of Laguna Pueblo, and it's a very traditional community.

Speaker Women don't generally they're not the politicians. They're not the ones who are in, you know, in the tribal council or run for governor or anything like that. And so I recognize that. Right, that that that I feel that I have an opportunity to lead. If I can't do it in my own community, then then I'll do it in the greater mainstream society. And so I suppose that stepping out to run for Congress and this isn't my first election, I ran for lieutenant governor in twenty fourteen, but stepping out to run for Congress when my my tradition and culture doesn't necessarily say that women run for public office, I, I just feel like I wanted to do that.

Speaker And so that's what I do.

Speaker And in doing so, I'm sure you made space for other women, other young girls who could imagine themselves.

Speaker Yes, absolutely. And in doing so, yes, young native girls who never saw themselves as members of Congress or and in fact, I was the first woman chairwoman of the board of directors of my tribe's economic development corporation. I want young girls, young native girls to see themselves as leaders, whether it's, you know, whether they start out as as president of their student body at their school or, you know, the leader on a on their basketball team or or whatever it is, they I want them to realize that they have a place and a space here in our country to do whatever they want to. So I'm in that respect. I'm I'm so proud to have won my election because so often I see native girls who who hug me and say thank you. With tears in their eyes because they realize it's something they haven't seen before.

Speaker So I am intent on leaving the ladder down for young girls, not just native girls, girls of color, any any girls who who feel like they want something, want to achieve a leadership position. I, I feel ready to leave that ladder down and and see how I can help.

Speaker That's a great unknown to me. The idea of leaving the ladder down, making the footsteps, you know, the path to that leadership possible. So we're actually talking about a woman who when we started doing research on her life, it was just really amazing to me, this woman who was the first member of Congress who was elected representing Montana and Jeannette Rankin.

Speaker And I think it's really, really interesting. You know, her evolution to come to this spot, and it's kind of hard to imagine that when when she came into the Congress, she was 36 years old and to have one woman sitting around with four hundred and thirty four men, I mean, can you even imagine that that must have felt like.

Speaker No, I can't imagine. I can't I'm sure it was very difficult. You know, it's hard being the only one. Like, I've been the only native. Person or girl in a classroom, I've been the only native person in a staff meeting, you know, that kind of thing, so I understand that that's a that's a huge number to be outnumbered by, though. It's true. Yes, but but that's the kind of courage that we need in women, right? We've had it for so long. And we just need to continue that courage to keep knowing our value, knowing that we have good ideas, knowing that we can do the work no matter what's put in front of us. I really feel strongly that we need to continue that.

Speaker When did you first hear the that? And then what? How much do you feel like you know about her story?

Speaker I can't say that I know a tremendous amount about her story, but there is a display in the in the Capitol building about her. It's right next to the portrait of Shirley Chisholm, who is the first African-American woman elected to Congress. So I can't say that I know a tremendous amount about her, though.

Speaker Well, it's interesting that she was elected in 1916, which is pretty amazing. And one of the things that I think that people know the most about her or I will say that she's probably one of the best known for in addition to being the first woman, is that she was the only member of Congress because she was a founder of the Women's Peace Party, that she actually voted against U.S. involvement in both World War One and World War Two. And she got a tremendous, as you can, I'm sure you can imagine, got a tremendous amount of criticism for being so consistent in her commitment to peace, really just having little space in her heart for accepting the idea of war. Can you imagine yourself taking a stance that strong within the within the context of being here in the home?

Speaker I mean, I could of course, I can imagine. I can imagine standing up for something that you truly believe in.

Speaker And I'm thinking of Barbara Lee right now when she took that vote against the Iraq war. It's not easy to stand up for your values, but I, I, I have to believe that your constituents expect you to stand up for what you believe in. Otherwise they wouldn't have voted for you. They they want you to take a stand and be strong and not waver. And so I have to respect immensely Jeannette Rankin for for her stance and, you know, think that it's 20, 19.

Speaker And I think voters want authenticity. They want they want candidates who are genuine, who will do what they say and say what they do and not waver. And so I think she was exemplary. And I'll use her as an inspiration.

Speaker Of course, one of the things that she also did was that she really was committed to speaking with voters one on one. So she used to go to forums to she would drive four hours to rural communities just to really check in and make sure she was reflecting what people really thought. Do you see similarities in that relative to absolutely honest and because of the fact you your your district does have a lot of diversity in your voting district?

Speaker Yes, absolutely. And I have a lot of rural communities in my district, too. So, of course, you know, now you can get on the freeway and and drive to any rural community in a relatively reasonable amount of time. I'm sure it was a lot harder for Congresswoman Rankin to do that at the time. But, yes, absolutely. I have you know, I'm an organizer. So when I was organizing in Indian Country, I traveled to every single Native American community in the state. And that's that's from the north, you know, from the northwest down to the southeast. I have traveled a tremendous amount just to engage people and make sure they know that we care about what they think. We care that they're involved. We care that we can have a conversation about what's happening in our state and in our country and in our. Our world, because every voter deserves that, so I do that. Now, one of my staff members in my New Mexico office made a map for me with an electronic map, with a pin for every single place I've been in in New Mexico since I got elected. And so I'm going to keep expanding that.

Speaker That's exciting. So would you say that a Ripken's example inspires you, and do you feel like you're walking in her footsteps?

Speaker Absolutely, yes. Yes, she inspires me.

Speaker So we're talking about really trying to contemporize, you know, the time period was 100 years ago, women had the right to vote. Here we are now, as you said, twenty nineteen. How would you assess kind of where people are in this country now? I know it's it's hard, you know, to talk about all Indian people in terms of a monolithic because there are so many different nations, so many different territories and locations. But in terms of kind of looking at both the progress that's been made and what you feel are the main issues moving forward, what are the things that we should know and look for in coming years to be the issues that you'll be championing?

Speaker Sure. Well, yes, to be clear, there are, I believe, is five hundred seventy three tribes across the country. So some of those tribes, yes, they face varying issues. I think one issue in that that a lot of tribes have in common is land into trust. You know, it's ironic that when the United States government drew the boundaries to various tribes, you know, reservations, nations, pueblos that they had and tribes didn't have a say in that. So you might remember recently the fight for the sacred lake of the Standing Rock Sioux people. They know that lake wasn't within their boundaries, but it's their sacred lake. Our sacred sites don't cease to be our sacred sites just because they're not within the exterior boundaries of our lands. So a lot of tribes, ironically, have purchased land because it's their land. It was it was there since time immemorial. But they they have to now purchase it. And when they purchased land and they want to move it into trust, that is something Congress needs to pay attention to. So so the land into trust issue is important.

Speaker Sacred sites, when I think about the president just drawing a line and and, you know, lobbying off a huge portion of bears, ears, national monument, their sacred sites all over that, all over Boissiere, is that that tribes from around the country will come to have their ceremonies there. It's important that we listen to tribes, that we protect our public lands because a lot of those lands do contain the sacred sites. And and so that's that's another issue that they need to be at the table before decisions like that are made. And of course, we're also economically savvy. There's a lot of tribes who are working very hard to expand their economic development. And so we need to have, you know, make sure that we're on top of that. When when the Republicans pass their tax plan a couple of years back, they didn't invite tribes to the table to discuss new market tax credits or anything like that.

Speaker So we just need to be cognizant that that Indian Indian country has issues. Yes, there's somewhat different than mainstream issues, but we all want the same things.

Speaker We want our children to have a quality public education. We want all our people to have health care. We want to be able to make a living with economic development. So so those are all things that that we should pay attention to and that I will move forward as best as I can.

Speaker Excuse me.

Speaker So from your vantage point, what do you see as the future of women in politics, especially on the Hill? One of the things that Jeannette Rankin said, again, that was very popular was basically kind of what you said, and that is that she said that.

Speaker That I may be the first woman member of Congress, that I will not be the last we have the people, we should be half of the representatives, as you said.

Speaker So what do you see in terms of what you anticipate happening relative to US politics, the election in 2020, etc., especially for women of color?

Speaker Well, of course, I think that now that we have a record number of women of color in Congress, that more women of color will recognize that they have an opportunity. But we need women of color at all levels of government. We need them. And on school boards and city councils, county commissions, we need them to run for statewide offices and and House, state, House and Senate positions. So there are enough offices to go around. I just hope that we can get enough women of color recognize that, yes, they have a place in government and I always encourage that.

Speaker So my my one of my last questions to you was, so what do you say to young girls and young women and people of color who aspire to also do this work? What do you say to the young young women in your in your staff relative to how to make space and how to make change?

Speaker Well, we all you know, I'm proud to have one of the most diverse staff here on Capitol Hill. I think, you know, we had an article written about our office or something like that because, you know, when you give people opportunities, they can go on to have more opportunities.

Speaker Right.

Speaker Sometimes it just takes somebody getting a foot in the door in order to move forward or up with with their, you know, life goals.

Speaker So if I can be a part of that, I'm happy to. We have an internship program here in our office. We welcome fellows and interns from organizations through universities and so forth. And we've had a number of Native American women right here in my office as interns. So I'm always going to support that. I'm always going to encourage them to apply. You don't know that you'll get in until you apply. And that goes for everything. I am. I just I feel positive that we can make a difference in these young girls lives. You know, as a single mom, my daughter, we didn't have a lot of money when my daughter was growing up. We were on food stamps. Some of the time I had to piece together health care. I had to teach her how to ride the city bus when she was nine so that she would know how to get home if she if I couldn't pick her up from school. So so I feel like, you know, we have to I found opportunities for her even though we didn't have money. She was able to go to college right after high school on a lottery scholarship from our state.

Speaker And so there there are opportunities people need to find them and we need to create them wherever we can.

Speaker So I know that you had an around six, and we also wanted to have an opportunity to kind of get some B roll with you interacting with your staff. That's OK. But was there anything that you felt like we needed to say that we didn't get a chance to cover in response to the questions I asked you?

Speaker And we got everything OK? Sometimes I I like I'm just focused on the here and now.

Speaker That's why I'm glad Felicia is here, because then she is she's just listening. I should probably ask you this.

Speaker So we talked about kind of more like national politics. But in terms of your district in New Mexico, are there some particular I know you talked about the environmental issues, but are there some things that we should expect seeing from you relative to legislation?

Speaker Well, I mean, I I as the vice chair of the Natural Resources Committee and the chair of the Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, I'm going to go to bat for our environment, every opportunity I have, whether it's in New Mexico or across our country, because our planet is we have to protect our planet.

Speaker And, you know, I think about my grandparents who who assimilated into mainstream society. My my grandfather ended up moving to Winslow, Arizona, to work on the railroad, and he was there for forty five years.

Speaker He left his community to because he felt like that's what he needed to do. He felt like he needed to give his children opportunities and and an education and make sure that they knew how to be in a modern era. And and I just I feel like they they did that for me. They they wanted a future for their grandchildren.

Speaker And and here I am. And so I have an obligation to my grandparents. And and I just think that we all need to think about the sacrifices that that our ancestors have made for us to be here and work at making the world better for future generations.

Speaker It was so beautiful. I do want to ask you just one last question, OK? What do you say to climate change deniers and what do you say to people, to people who tell you with all of these justifications for all the increase in serious storms and all the things that all the things that scientists say science really supports the whole notion of climate change. When you're talking about environmental issues, would what do you say to the total nonbelievers who, for whatever reasons, for their own interest or for whatever reasons, just aren't on the program?

Speaker Yeah, I don't I just don't understand that way of thinking at all when when the science is clear. I you know, I just keep moving forward. I keep I don't change my message. I, I want people to know where I stand with climate change. And so I just keep talking about it. And yes, the fires have been devastating. Temperatures are rising. It was, you know, 90 degrees in Alaska this past summer. It's this is this is not something that we.

Speaker That we should let up on and so my message will remain the same, that we have an obligation to protect this planet from climate change. I'm going to do everything in my power to reduce carbon in our public lands. Because of that. I'm the chairwoman of that subcommittee and will will move forward with renewable energy, because I believe that not only will renewable energy keep carbon from going into the atmosphere, but it will create a new economy that that we can rely on. New Mexico has over three hundred days of sun per year. Our entire state should be powered by renewable energy.

Speaker So to that end, I.

Speaker I feel sorry that there are deniers, for whatever reason, that people are in denial.

Speaker My message will not change. I will keep. I will keep moving this conversation forward so that so that I speak the truth.

Deb Haaland
Interview Date:
American Archive of Public Broadcasting GUID:
"Deb Haaland, Unladylike2020: The Changemakers." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). 21 Oct. 2019,
(2019, October 21). Deb Haaland, Unladylike2020: The Changemakers. [Video]. American Masters Digital Archive (WNET).
"Deb Haaland, Unladylike2020: The Changemakers." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). October 21, 2019. Accessed January 16, 2022


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