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ND Tribal Communities Hopeful About Interior Secretary Nomination

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Wednesday, February 3, 2021   

CANNON BALL, N.D. -- Spiritual and cultural connections to land are among the core beliefs of Native Americans, and North Dakota advocates feel they could soon have a federal leader who strongly identifies with those beliefs.

New Mexico Congresswoman Deb Haaland is awaiting her confirmation vote, after being asked by President Joe Biden to serve as Interior Secretary.

Nicole Donaghy, executive director for the group North Dakota Native Vote, said not only would it be historic to see a Native in charge of a federal agency, but to her, the nomination brings hope tribal lands have a defender who sees things through the same lens.

"That understanding of the connection of how Indigenous people relate to the land, and how we find that conservation, is an important role in who we are as a people," Donaghy explained.

She noted the previous administration often failed to consult with tribes when reviving controversial projects like the Dakota Access pipeline.

Haaland's nomination has drawn push-back from GOP House members in oil and mining-heavy districts, who've urged their Senate colleagues to consider her opposition to practices like fracking.

Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., previously indicated he'd have some resistance to the nomination.

Wes Davis, board chairman at North Dakota Native Vote, said he isn't surprised to hear arguments about canceled oil projects and the economic effect, but he believes Haaland's voice has credibility, that can rise above political divisions.

"She understands the ecosystem, you know, and how it relates to all people and the health of the world," Davis remarked.

Not only does the Interior Department oversee public lands, it's also a key connection for tribes and honoring treaties. Davis added given the history of tribal property stolen by the federal government, Haaland could bring renewed energy to the movement to reclaim lands.

"Not only in those treaty rights did we lose land, but we lost opportunities to hunt and fish on these lands," Davis pointed out.

During the Obama presidency, one North Dakota tribe was able to recover land taken by the Army Corps of Engineers.

The Interior Department manages than four million acres of federal and Indian Trust mineral areas in western North Dakota.

Fracking has been a concern in the region, including the impact on the Fort Berthold reservation.

Disclosure: North Dakota Native Vote contributes to our fund for reporting on Civic Engagement, Native American Issues, and Poverty Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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