Native Congresswoman To Co-Lead Tribe-Focused Caucus
Law360 (January 31, 2019, 6:10 PM EST) — A New Mexico Democrat who recently became one of the first Native American women in Congress was tapped to co-chair a coalition focused on tribal issues, joining an Oklahoma Republican who has helped lead the caucus for roughly a decade.
According to a Wednesday announcement, Rep. Deb Haaland will take the helm of the Congressional Native American Caucus — which works to educate lawmakers about tribal concerns and bolster relationships between federal and tribal governments — serving alongside Rep. Tom Cole, a Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma member who has co-led the coalition since 2009.
Haaland, a member of the Pueblo of Laguna, said in a Wednesday statement that she will be working with Cole to raise awareness about tribal sovereignty and the federal government’s responsibility to tribes.
“I will be a strong advocate for Native communities in New Mexico and across the country to improve education opportunities, protect and increase access to quality health care, expand broadband services, address the silent crisis of missing and murdered indigenous people, and ensure that tribal sovereignty is respected,” she said.
She also offered her thanks to the congresswoman she is replacing, Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., calling her a “tireless champion for Indian Country.”
McCollum, who served as co-chair for six years, will stay on as co-chair emeritus, according to the Wednesday announcement from Cole’s office.
The bipartisan coalition is focused on protecting tribal sovereignty and ensuring that the federal government is meeting its obligations to tribes across a number of policy areas, including health, safety, education, economic development and cultural preservation, McCollum’s website noted.
To achieve those goals, the caucus holds briefings for lawmakers, assesses the effect legislation will have on tribal nations and offers a forum for members of Congress to discuss issues and ideas, according to Cole’s announcement.
Haaland and Ho-Chunk Nation member Rep. Sharice Davids, D-Kan., became the first Native American women to serve in Congress earlier this month as part of the Democratic surge to a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives.
They joined Cole and Rep. Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla., as the only Native Americans serving in the House.
The midterms also saw the election of the first Native American governor, Kevin Stitt of the Cherokee Nation, a Republican who beat Democrat Drew Edmondson in November to become governor of Oklahoma.
On Wednesday, Stitt announced his pick for the state secretary of Native American affairs, selecting Lisa J. Billy, who has been serving in the Chickasaw National Legislature since 2016, reprising a seat she previously held from 1996 to 2002.
In between, she spent 12 years in the Oklahoma House of Representatives, holding leadership roles like deputy whip and vice chair of the Republican Caucus and forming the Oklahoma Legislature’s Native American Caucus in 2006, according to Stitt’s announcement.
The governor said in a Wednesday statement that Billy has been a “consistent and faithful” representative for the people of Oklahoma throughout her time in government.
“She will bring her hard work ethic and wealth of experience to the table in order to serve as an adviser to my administration and help foster strong partnerships between our tribal governments and the state of Oklahoma,” Stitt said.
Her appointment is contingent on state Senate confirmation, the announcement noted.
–Additional reporting by Andrew Westney. Editing by Connor Relyea.