A Native American heading the federal companies that oversee tribal medical care, schooling, housing and lands appears a pure match, but it surely has by no means occurred.
Both the Beltway and New Mexico are abuzz about two Native Americans being thought-about to become the subsequent secretary of the Department of the Interior. If one is chosen, it might be a milestone.
A Native American has by no means been a Cabinet secretary, and this job would have the added significance of main the division that oversees the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Bureau of Indian Education.
One candidate is U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland, an Albuquerque Democrat and Laguna Pueblo member who has gathered a groundswell of help in the weeks since Joe Biden was elected president. The different, in accordance to The Hill and the New York Times, is Michael Connor, a former deputy inside secretary with ties to Taos Pueblo.
Connor enjoys a doable benefit of getting held a high-ranking Interior Department job beneath President Barack Obama.
The two candidates are amongst 5 from New Mexico who’ve been thought-about for the publish. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham lately turned down the provide to be inside secretary, Biden’s transition officers have mentioned. And because the incoming administration continues to fill positions in the Cabinet, the hypothesis on the Interior Department grows virtually each day.
U.S. Sens. Tom Udall of Santa Fe and Martin Heinrich of Albuquerque are also thought to be in the combination. Udall is retiring from the Senate this yr.
Udall, 72, has a protracted historical past of environmental activism and an curiosity in the Interior Department — his father, Stewart Udall, headed the company beneath two presidents in the Nineteen Sixties — making him a high contender. He expressed his ardour for conservation in his farewell speech to Senate colleagues Tuesday.
One environmental advocate mentioned all of New Mexico’s candidates are extremely certified for the job.
“That … itself units that slate of candidates aside from who we have had running the present for the previous 4 years,” mentioned Susan Jane Brown, a employees lawyer who oversees the wildlands program for the Western Environmental Law Center. “It shall be a troublesome alternative in loads of methods.”
As for a Native American heading the company, Brown mentioned it is manner overdue.
“More Native voices in the Cabinet can solely be a superb factor,” she mentioned.
Connor’s identify solely lately surfaced as a candidate. Haaland has been in the dialog for weeks.
Neither responded to inquiries about being on Biden’s shortlist.
Connor is an lawyer at WilmerHale, a high-powered Washington, D.C., regulation agency. He specializes in pure assets, vitality growth and Native American regulation.
Haaland, 60, is an environmental and tribal advocate. She was considered one of two Native American girls elected to Congress in 2018 — one other historic first — and simply received reelection in the first Congressional District, which encompasses metro Albuquerque.
As Biden’s transition group started vetting her for the Cabinet publish, she drew help not solely from Native American advocacy teams throughout the nation however from 50 Democratic leaders who signed a letter urging Biden to decide her.
“The Secretary of the Interior will play a number one position in finishing up your administration’s environmental and local weather insurance policies and managing its relationship with tribal nations,” wrote Raúl Grijalva, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee. “You ought to select a nominee who has a deep understanding of and connection to these necessary obligations.”
Haaland is vice chairwoman for the Natural Resources Committee and chairs the Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands.
She additionally has served on the House Armed Services Committee and is a member of Biden’s Climate Engagement Advisory Council.
Last month, Haaland instructed HuffPost she would leap on the alternative to be inside secretary.
“Oh yes, of course,” Haaland mentioned. “Of course.”
Two Native advocacy organizations — the NDN Collective and the Indigenous Environmental Network — wrote a letter to the Biden transition team, urging it to pick Haaland as interior secretary.
“We strongly believe that the next Secretary of the Interior should be an Indigenous person,” the coalition wrote. “Someone with experience protecting public lands, addressing the climate crisis, and serving the needs of Indigenous communities. And someone who has no ties to fossil fuels or conflicts of interest when it comes to protecting our natural resources. Rep. Haaland is the only leading contender for the position who meets that criteria.”
Haaland lately joined Democratic lawmakers in passing a invoice that will ban oil and gasoline drilling inside a 10-mile radius of Chaco Culture National Historical Park in northwestern New Mexico.
She additionally has denounced sacred tribal websites being destroyed throughout building of the southern border wall. And she spoke towards Interior Secretary David Bernhardt’s current order to limit funding to develop conservation areas beneath the Great American Outdoors Act.
Whoever turns into inside secretary shall be in cost of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which manages 55 million acres of presidency land held in belief for tribes.
To have a Native American — whether or not it is Haaland or Connor — head an company that was a part of a historic effort to forcibly take away Indigenous folks and dilute their cultures could be pivotal, Native American advocates say.
“Any Indigenous particular person chosen would undoubtedly be applicable for the seat of the secretary of inside,” mentioned Leona Morgan, a Navajo group activist. “It is just not solely essential however brings some optimism to the longer term [after] the lengthy historical past of trauma that the United States has placed on the Indigenous folks.”
Morgan mentioned she is sort of acquainted with Haaland however is aware of nothing about Connor.
Native communities would strongly help an Indigenous inside secretary, however additionally they would demand accountability, Morgan mentioned.
“If an Indigenous particular person is appointed, they will not get a free cross,” Morgan mentioned. “They’ll have to work even tougher.”
Marissa Naranjo, a Santa Clara Pueblo member, mentioned Haaland has proven management in working with environmental teams and with tribal advocates who’re combating on behalf of their communities amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Haaland has led congressional efforts to cope with local weather change and shield ancestral websites such because the larger Chaco area, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase nationwide monuments, and the Arctic Wildlife National Refuge, Naranjo mentioned.
“She actually does proceed to deal with loads of points that combine financial, environmental and racial justice,” Naranjo mentioned. “And loads of these options undoubtedly align with our core values as Pueblo folks.”
The Interior Department additionally regulates actions on federal lands, together with parks upkeep, grazing, logging, and oil and gasoline extraction.
Judy Calman, coverage director for Audubon New Mexico, mentioned Haaland, if chosen, could be in cost of the Bureau of Land Management and would guarantee it retains to its multiuse mission, which isn’t solely vitality growth however recreation, conservation and preservation.
“Her appointment because the first Native American in a presidential Cabinet would even be a step in the suitable course in direction of a authorities which is definitely consultant of the folks,” Calman mentioned. “We would all be fortunate to have her there.”