Interior Secretary Deb Haaland (Pueblo of Laguna) is making history as the first Native American to serve as a U.S. cabinet secretary.
While she’s beloved in Indian Country, at the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) winter session, some tribal leaders report they still don’t see the Interior Department as an ally.
Matt Laslo has the story from Washington.
In his State of Tribal Nations address on Monday, NCAI President Mark Macarro (Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians) tipped his hat to President Joe Biden.
“Under his presidency, there are more Native Americans in the highest levels of government than ever before. From the White House to agencies, we see you!”
Bernadine Atchison, council chair of Alaska’s Kenaitze Indian Tribe. praises Sec. Haaland and all the other Native Americans in the Interior Department.
“Well, I think it’s amazing because it sets good role models like for our children and grandchildren that you can accomplish anything and your voice can be heard and can make a difference. I know they’ve come to visit us. They’ve helped.”
Maurice “Mo” John, a member of the tribal council for New York’s Seneca Nation, says there’s no question Sec. Haaland’s presence is being felt in Indian Country.
“By any standard, she’s made it easier for us, and she is the go between us and the administration. She’s a wonderful girl and I think she’s doing a very hard job to help all of us and she does help all of us at any given moment.”
But it’s not all resounding praise.
Cheryl Andrews-Maltais is chairwoman of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head Aquinnah.
“We’re on the island of what we call Noepe, and everybody else knows as Martha’s Vineyard off the coast of Massachusetts.”
Andrews-Maltais used to work for the Bureau of Indian Affairs and has high praise for Sec. Haaland. Still, she says her tribe has butted heads with the Biden administration over its 30×30 initiative to conserve 30% of America’s land and water by 2030.
“The waters rose, creating our island over 10,000 years ago. So all the areas right out to what they call the continental shelf break, where it actually goes down, all that was dry land and that has all of our living patterns and archaeological history contained submerged somewhere underneath the water. We’re trying to protect that, and it seems to compete with the administration’s need and desire to meet their 30×30 slogan for climate resiliency.”
Dallas Owen, a member of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate tribe of South and North Dakota, says his tribe is still jumping through too many federal hoops and hurdles.
“It’s like you got to hit steps one, two and three before you can get to four. So I know she’s probably doing the best she can, but I do I expect more? Yes. But am I going to be at a loss if nothing comes to fruition? Probably not. Because I know the position she’s in and at the end of the day, unless they cut red tape, it’s just what it is.”
Ashley Hemmers (enrolled member of the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe) says part of the way tribes were able to secure protections for the sacred Avi Kwa Ame National Monument was through bypassing Washington and working with other tribes first.
“We know we wanted to protect our sacred site and we can’t rely on Washington, right?”
Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) has published a book on the era of Indigenous slavery in Alaska that endured more than two decades after passage of the 13th Amendment to the federal constitution, which abolished the practice two years before Alaska became part of the United States in 1867.
The book is about a Haida man named Sah Quah, who embarked on a courageous quest for freedom from his Tlingit owner, and the trial that ultimately ended human bondage in 1886.
Sah Quah explores how slavery came to exist and persist in Alaska despite the federal act that banned it.
The book was written by journalist Jeff Landfield and Paxson Woelber along with attorney Lee Baxter.
The investigative special feature first appeared on the political news site The Alaska Landmine and was reprinted through SHI’s Box of Knowledge series.
Woelber said the story of slavery in North America is incomplete without an understanding of slavery in Alaska.