On March 15 the US Senate voted to endorse Rep. Haaland as the next Secretary of the Interior. Four Republican senators cast their ballots in the affirmative. Indian Country has cause to rejoice.
One of the great privileges in being married to Joanne Shenandoah is the opportunity to travel across the world and throughout North America to assist in her performances and to meet the thousands of fans who come to hear her music.
We have visited New Mexico, the ancient home of the Iroquois, many times and among those who were in one of her audiences was Debra Haaland, a single mom from the Laguna Nation west of Albuquerque.
Ms. Haaland is, like Joanne, a pathfinder and a path maker, one who has pressed forward with her goals regardless of the challenges in front of her. She enrolled at the University of New Mexico when she was 28, graduated six years later then continued to work as a student at UNM's law school.
Her innate abilities as an organizer secured her the position of director at the San Felipe Pueblo on the Rio Grande before she was asked to serve as chairperson of the state's Democratic Party in 2015 which was in disarray having suffered electoral defeats for governor, Congress and the Senate.
Ms. Haaland turned the Democrats back into winners and during her tenure, the party was returned to the governorship and had new congressional representatives. She was urged to run for Congress as a representative and won in 2018. She was, along with Sharice Davids from Kansas, one of the first two Indigenous female representatives in American history.
The Congresswoman identified herself as a progressive and a supporter of the New Green Deal and an advocate for universal health care. She is also an opponent of the Keystone pipeline which was designed to carry dirty Alberta tar sands oil from northern Canada to petroleum refineries in Huston, Texas before being transported to Asia.
She stood with the Native nations of the northern plains to stop Keystone which was halted by former US President Obama before ex-president Trump gave it the great light only to have President Biden once again ordered a stop to the project.
When the new administration came into office in January there was great pressure to have President Biden nominate Rep. Haaland as Secretary of the Interior, a position in which she would oversee 70,000 employees and hundreds of millions of acres of federal land.
The Secretary also is in control of the Bureau of Indian Affairs which in turn directs millions of dollars in federal funds to Native communities across the US. nominee Haaland would also direct the issuing of licenses for mineral and oil extraction on federal property and wield enormous power over the usage of the nation's national resources. Her position would make Ms. Haaland the most powerful aboriginal person in US history.
Since the US Senate has the authority to approve Ms. Haaland's nomination she had to testify before the Senate's Energy and Natural Resources Committee which she did over two days.
Anyone watching that even would have been concerned about the committee's Republican members failure to raise any questions involving Indigenous issues but initiated verbal attacks against her citing her opposition to any restrictions on the exploitation of natural resources on federal lands-those senators were bold in defense of the oil, mining and ranching corporations with no tolerance for the trust obligations of the Department of the Interior.
This palpable hostility was met with impenetrable tranquility and graciousness by Rep. Haaland. She was emphatic about the need to work in concert, to ensure all voices were heard, to use her remarkable skills as a peacemaker in preserving the 640,000,000 acres the Department oversees for all Americans.
The Republicans saw her compassion and her call to reason and compromise as potential weaknesses and called into question her "radical" position on conservation versus exploitation. She would not be baited and kept her demeanor, staying calm, stressing her ancestral values, refusing to step into their traps.
She was so cool that US Senator Jo Manchin (D-WVA) a pro-mining advocate, quickly endorsed her nomination followed by Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) who voted for her nomination after receiving a tidal wave of endorsements for Ms. Haaland from Native nations across the country.
With Sen. Murkowski's enthusiastic support Rep. Haaland's nomination was secured from the committee by a vote of 11-9.
She was sworn into office as Secretary of the Interior.
Given her ethics, her passion and her record of advocacy on behalf of Indigenous peoples is a great new era in our history and is about to begin.
From such heroic people, history is made.