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Mark Trahant 

Indian Country Today

It’s often said that elections have consequences. In this case the Georgia Senate race last month could make all the difference if Rep. Deb Haaland is confirmed as the first Native American to be Secretary of the Interior.

President Joe Biden nominated Haaland, Laguna and Jemez Pueblos, to lead the agency that has implemented the relationship between tribes and the federal government since the transfer of Indian Affairs from the Department of War in 1849.

At the same time the Interior Department is responsible for fish, wildlife, and being the nation’s landlord managing some 640 million acres, more than 30 percent of the country. That includes a huge portfolio of natural resources, such as oil and gas.

It’s the extractive industry — and its allies in Congress — that are lining up opposition to Haaland. This weekend Montana Sen. Steve Daines, a Republican, said he would block Haaland’s confirmation by the U.S. Senate.

“I'm deeply concerned with the Congresswoman's support on several radical issues that will hurt Montana, our way of life, our jobs and rural America, including her support for the Green New Deal and President Biden's oil and gas moratorium, as well as her opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline,” the senator said after his conversation with Haaland.

“I’m not convinced the Congresswoman can divorce her radical views and represent what's best for Montana and all stakeholders in the West. Unless my concerns are addressed, I will block her confirmation,” he added.

Had Democrats lost the election in Georgia, Daines would have been able to do just that. A unified bloc of Republicans in the Senate would have been enough to deny her the job. Now, however, the Senate is equally split between Democrats and Republicans with Vice President Kamala Harris holding the deciding vote.

On ICT’s newscast last week, Holly Cook Macarro, Red Lake Ojibwe, and a partner with Spirit Rock Consulting, said the reason for energy company opposition is the Biden administration’s climate change framework.

“Jennifer Granholm, who I would say has an equal starring role on the climate change panel of nominees and the Biden Harris administration, but she had a very low key nomination hearing,” Macarro said. “ Which is what we hope for, with, for, for Deb Haaland. No fanfare, no surprises, support from all corners.”

Last week the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee sent Granholm’s nomination to the Senate floor with a 13-4 bipartisan vote.

The chairman of that committee is West Virginia Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin. He said that Granholm is extremely well qualified. “She has the leadership skills, the vision, and the compassion for people that we need at the helm of the Department of Energy to face the climate challenge, and at the same time, preserve our energy security, protect our national security, cleanup the Cold War legacy, and preserve our scientific and technological prowess,” he said.

Manchin is also a key to Haaland’s nomination. He told E&E News that he has had initial conversations with Haaland via Zoom. “I don't know her very well,” he said. “I just want to do a little background check."

Many in the Senate, including Manchin and several Republicans, say that presidents should have wide latitude to assemble their own candidates.

No date has been set yet for Haaland’s confirmation hearing.

Macarro said that when Rep. Pete Stuaber, R-Minnesota and several of his GOP colleagues in the House, called for Biden to withdraw Haaland’s nomination there was an immediate response from tribes.

“The tribes in Minnesota and the region pushed back immediately, which I thought was a terrific warning shot to the rest of the industry and the country that she has a solid base of support,” Macarro said.

The same could be said in Montana. Despite Daines and Rep. Matt Rosendale’s opposition to Haaland, tribes not only continue to support Haaland for the post and are on record opposing the Keystone XL pipeline.

Keaton Sunchild, Western Native Voice political director, tweeted: “For the Indigenous people of Montana, this will be the first time we will have representation in a high-rank position at the federal level. We hope that Sen. Daines will reach out to all Montanans and reconsider his position. I encourage everyone to reach out to Sen. Daines’ office and tell him to support this historic nomination.”

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Mark Trahant, Shoshone-Bannock, is editor of Indian Country Today. On Twitter: @TrahantReports Trahant is based in Phoenix.

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