By Acee Agoyo at Indianz.Com
Wednesday, March 17, 2021
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Secretary Deb Haaland is making history in more ways than one, as the first Native person to lead the Department of the Interior and the first Native person to serve in a presidential cabinet.
On her first day in office on Wednesday, Haaland held her first engagement with the news media. In doing so, she chose to speak first with Native reporters, something that hasn’t occurred in recent history with any high-ranking government official of any administration.
The call, which took place on the record, was arranged by communications staff at Interior and the Native American Journalists Association. Haaland spoke with Native reporters following an address to fellow employees at Interior, the federal agency with the most trust and treaty responsibilities in Indian Country.
“It’s so nice to have a chance to visit with all of you,” Haaland, a citizen of the Pueblo of Laguna, said in her opening remarks. “I just finished a big virtual meeting with thousands of Interior staff and I’m so excited to finally be here and to hit the ground running.”
Haaland, who resigned from her seat in the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday, addressed a wide range of issues during the call, which lasted about 37 minutes. She spoke of the need to improve consultation with Indian nations, respect tribal sovereignty and help tribes and their citizens recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I believe that we cannot rebuild our nation, we cannot do anything, until our country is well,” said Haaland. “We know that the pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on American Indians and Alaska Natives.”
“That’s true even for us at Interior, where more than 80 percent of the individuals who have died from COVID worked in the Indian Affairs bureaus,” Haaland said in reference to the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Bureau of Indian Education, where the vast majority of employees are American Indian and Alaska Native.
To help address the pandemic, the American Rescue Plan Act that was signed into law by President Joe Biden last week includes a historic $31.2 billion for Indian Country, of which $20 billion is going directly to tribal governments. At Interior, $900 million will be distributed by the BIA and $850 will be distributed by the BIE.
“We have to get resources out to tribal communities as swiftly as possible,” Secretary Haaland said. “We have to give them the resources to manage their vaccinations and testing on their communities as they are able. The president’s American Rescue Plan is an historic package that will provide much needed relief for families and tribal governments.”
“This [is] money that we have to get out the door yesterday, truly,” Haaland added.
In addition to Haaland, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Bryan Newland took part in the call. He is the most recent president of the Bay Mills Indian Community, based in Michigan.
What follows is a rush transcript of Haaland’s opening remarks with the Native media. A second transcript of answers she gave to questions posed by reporters will follow later.
Thank you so much. And I’m not going to spend a whole lot of time because I’d really like to make sure that you all have the time here today, but hello everyone. It’s so nice to have a chance to visit with all of you. I just finished a big virtual meeting with thousands of Interior staff and I’m, I’m so excited to finally be here and to hit the ground running.
Even in just the hour I spent, it’s really invigorating to feel the energy of the Interior staff. There’s a lot of enthusiasm for the work that we are doing and for the mission of the department. President Biden has set ambitious goals that will ensure America and the world can meet the urgent demands of the climate crisis, while empowering our nation’s workers and businesses to lead a clean energy revolution.
To do that, we must engage tribal nations with an all-of-agency approach because for far too long, Indian issues were relegated to just the Indian Affairs bureaus. If we’re going to make sure that tribal communities thrive, that tribal sovereignty is respected and strengthened, and if we are truly to repair our nation-to nation-relationships, then that means every bureau and every office needs to be thinking about our obligations to Indian tribes across the country.
As I told the staff today, I am so ready to pull up my sleeves, to start working. And this talented team here has already been hard at work to begin to meet these goals.
The Department of the Interior is working to address the climate crisis, restore balance on public lands and waters, advance environmental justice and invest in a clean energy future. Already, Interior is engaged in tribal consultation to restore the government-to-government relationship with sovereign tribal nations, identifying steps to accelerate responsible development of renewable energy on public lands and waters, thinking through how to stand up a civilian climate corps to put a new generation of Americans to work conserving and restoring public lands and waters, and addressing climate change, developing approaches to conserve at least 30 percent of each of our lands and waters by the year 2030, reviewing the federal oil and gas program to ensure that it serves the public interest and restores balance on America’s public lands and waters, and reviewing monument boundaries and conditions of the Grand Staircase-Escalante, Bears Ears, Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine national monuments, to determine whether restoration of the boundaries and conditions would be appropriate.
At every step of the way, Interior will engage diverse stakeholders across the country, as well as conduct formal consultation with tribes in recognition of the U.S. government’s trust responsibilities to ensure that everyone who has a stake in the future of this country has their voices heard.
From the families of fossil fuel workers who helped build our country, to the ranchers and farmers who care deeply for their lands, we’ll take a balanced, measured approach to our work as we transition to a clean economy. From rural and tribal communities with legacies and toxic pollution, to communities of color that have faced decades of environmental racism, we will center the voices of those who for too long have been neglected.
I’m here to take your questions, but before I do, I want to briefly touch on the pandemic because I believe that we cannot rebuild our nation, we cannot do anything, until our country is well. We know that the pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on American Indians and Alaska natives.
That’s true even for us as at Interior, where more than 80 percent of the individuals who have died from COVID worked in the Indian Affairs bureaus.
We have to get resources out to tribal communities as swiftly as possible. We have to give them the resources to manage their vaccinations and testing on their communities as they are able.
The president’s American Rescue Plan is an historic package that will provide much needed relief for families and tribal governments. I was proud to support it as a member of Congress and I’m so enthusiastic about putting it into action as Secretary.
It makes a historic $31.2 billion investment in tribal communities — the largest single investment in the United States has ever been made in Indian Country. At interior, this includes:
* 900 million for the BIA, which will include direct aid payments to tribal governments and funding to address concerns related to housing and potable water.
* $850 million for the BIE, which will benefit BIA funded schools and tribal colleges and universities.
This [is] money that we have to get out the door yesterday, truly.
So that is one of my top priorities, as is working to keep people safe. I told the staff today that I’m committed to doing everything I can to ensure the health and well-being of Interior employees and visitors to our public lands and waters.
Last I want to say, I come from a family that farms, ranches and hunts, I’ve grown up in rural and agricultural communities and I know what it’s like to live in a community that’s been left behind.
These experiences underscore why I believe so deeply in the work that we do here at the Interior Department and why I know that we can and will make a difference in the everyday lives of families across this country.
I know that Indian Country is watching what we at Interior will do. I feel the support, the love, and also the pressure to do everything I can to get this right.
I believe that we have the opportunity of a lifetime to protect our environment and our way of life for generations to come. And with that, I’m happy to take your questions and very proud to have Bryan Newland with me as well, who will be happy to take questions as well.