By Antonia Gonzales
On her first day on the job, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland promised to specifically reach out to tribes.
“I think speaking to tribes and fully involving them in decisions that we make will be one way to ensure that we’re getting everyone’s voice and everyone’s perspective at that table,” said Haaland. “So, I look forward to having a full list of issues that I know need to be worked on and I will look forward to that.”
Her comments came during an online video briefing with news outlets, including National Native News, that lasted a little more than 30 minutes. It was among her first acts after being sworn in as the first Native American presidential cabinet member. Haaland opened with remarks touching on a number of issues ranging from the environment and sacred sites to the COVID-19 pandemic. She talked about the disproportionate impacts COVID-19 has had on tribes, and President Biden’s American Rescue Plan investing $900 million in the Bureau of Indian Affairs and $850 million in the Bureau of Indian Education. As the new leader of the agency that manages public lands and tasked with upholding treaty and trust responsibilities, Haaland said she will take tribal consultation seriously, including when it comes to complicated issues such as federal acknowledgement re-petitioning and land into trust.
Haaland’s decision to hold her first press briefing with Indigenous reporters drew praise.
“The nature of her reaching out to tribal media first and recognizing the Indigenous reporters are on the ground and know these issues better than any other journalists working in the country speaks to one of (the Native American Journalists Association’s) main goals ,” said Graham Lee Brewer, associate editor for Indigenous affairs at High Country News. Brewer is also secretary of the NAJA board.
“Sec. Haaland proved today by giving us access before any other reporters is that, that kind of diversity in the newsroom adds value. It gives you greater lived experiences and greater access to Indian Country,” Brewer said.
Brewer said he hopes Haaland will continue to give access to tribal media.
10 members of the Native American Journalists Association were presented the opportunity to have a“pen and pad” briefing with Sec. Haaland. In attendance-National Native News, Indianz.com, Indian Country Today, Navajo Times, Mvskoke Media, FNX-First Nations Experience, High Country News, Arizona Republic, Tulsa World, CBC Indigenous