In a pro-active move by a coalition of supporters, including American Indian activist Suzan Harjo, a letter was sent to President Barack Obama on December 10, showing strong support for the nomination of Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., as the next Interior Secretary if and when that position opens up.
Ken Salazar is the current Interior Secretary, but in a June interview with The Denver Post he was noncommittal about serving a second term if Obama was re-elected. With Obama’s inauguration a little more than a month away, the decision on who will be at the head of the department that oversees the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Fish and Wild Life Service, among others, is coming into focus.
The letter represented the voice of 236 conservation, Hispanic recreation, animal welfare, religious, labor, youth, business and women’s groups, according to a press release issued soon after it was sent.
The selection of the next Interior Secretary is “an important moment to place a renewed emphasis and urgency on some of the most critical issues of our age, including climate change, the protection of endangered species and preservation of water and wild lands,” the letter states. "We strongly believe Congressman Grijalva exemplifies the modern and forward-thinking vision of the Department of the Interior.”
Salazar, who was at the helm when the BP oil spill occurred in the Gulf of Mexico, was criticized by environmentalists and others for his initial handling of the situation, according to The Denver Post.
Indian Country Today Media Network reported in August that the Interior Department granted Shell permission to begin preliminary drilling in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska. The announcement was met with trepidation from the likes of the World Wildlife Fund and other environmental organizations.
Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth, said in the release: “Representative Grijalva has long been an environmental leader on the Natural Resources Committee, and his expertise is just what is needed at the Department of the Interior. For too long the oil, mining and coal interests have been at the helm of the Department of the Interior, but Rep. Grijalva would remake the agency to put the American people before polluters."
Grijalva, who is the ranking member and former chairman of the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, brings a knowledge the coalition feels is needed for the position.
“The next Interior Secretary will have a crucial role to play in addressing the growing threat of global warming to national parks, wildlife refuges, public lands, wildlife and all the people who enjoy and depend upon them,” the letter states.
As a representative in Arizona since 2003, Grijalva has a working knowledge and relationship with Native American nations within the state on topics such as sacred sites, water rights and more.
“Congressman Grijalva has unparalleled expertise with Native Americans and Indian tribes, a strong understanding of border issues, a well-established and pragmatic conservation ethic, and valuable experience with a wide variety of funding challenges. We strongly believe Congressman Grijalva exemplifies the modern and forward thinking vision of the Department of the Interior,” the letter states.
Harjo, the Cheyenne & Hodulgee Muscogee president of The Morning Star Institute, said, “Raúl Grijalva has worked with Native American nations and people for many years. He understands what we face as ancient cultural continuums, as governments and as families. He is brilliant, dedicated and effective at protecting our vital natural resources and national heritage. He is perfect for this job.”