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Oneida Nation Pleased As Deb Haaland Becomes First Native American Cabinet Member

Courtesy U.S. House of Representatives

The confirmation of Deb Haaland as the first Native American cabinet secretary has been greeted with hope and satisfaction by leaders of the Oneida Indian Nation. Ray Halbritter said they supported Haaland as a member of congress, and always had faith and a desire to have native people in positions of authority and responsibility. 

Now the self-described “35th generation New Mexican” is Secretary of the Interior.

I was on a call [Monday] night with her and some of her supporters congratulating and reveling in the moment when she’s been confirmed. It was such a significant moment to all because of how long our people have looked towards a government that will listen to them,” Hallbritter said. “We now know we have a voice that will be hearing us and she’s more than just a voice, she’s an ally for Native America.”

He said Haaland is a competent and effective leader who will keep an eye toward future generations as she takes on challenges posed by climate change and threats to the environment. He said her personal struggles with poverty, alcoholism, and more are assets.

“There’s really something welcoming about knowing someone understands where you are and where you come from, what you’ve been through, what you’re living in,” he said. “In particular being a woman and a mother, those are factors that are going to be very helpful to someone in that position to be understanding and open to ideas and discussion.”

Halbritter is also hopeful that Haaland will help the federal government understand and respect treaties, including the Treaty of Canandaigua, the oldest treaty in America.

"That's not just something out of antiquity; that's a real, viable instrument.  The Constitution refers to treaties as the supreme law of the land.  There are treaty issues with just that alone, among all of the Indian nations.  Indian nations have longed for an opportunity to be heard."

Haaland will oversee a department that manages about one fifth of all the land in the US, including fossil fuel development, as well as oversee the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Haaland was confirmed with a 51-40 vote. Four Republicans: Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Susan Collins of Maine, and Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, joined all present Democrats in voting for her.