Connect with us


‘It’s about time!’ Tribal members in Montana celebrate Deb Haaland’s historic confirmation



Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., speaks during a Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources hearing on her nomination to be Interior Secretary, Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021 on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Rep. Deb Haaland on Monday made history as she became the first Native American to hold a cabinet secretary position. 

The U.S. Senate confirmed Haaland for Secretary of the Interior in a 51-40 vote.

Sen. Steve Daines voted to block her confirmation, citing her track record and ideology, and Sen. Jon Tester voted to confirm her, citing her commitments to public lands, tribal nations and job creation.

A Democratic representative from New Mexico, Haaland is a member of the Laguna Pueblo Tribe. She is a 35th generation New Mexican.

Support local journalism:Sign up for the Tribune’s newsletter dedicated to tribal news in Montana

In her two-day confirmation hearing, Haaland spoke of her father, who served in the Marine Corps, her mother, who served in the Navy and worked for the Bureau of Indian Education, and generations of ancestors who paved her path. 

“If an Indigenous woman from humble beginnings can be confirmed as Secretary of the Interior, our country holds promise for everyone,” she said on Feb. 23, the first day of her hearing. 

Andrew Werk Jr., president of the Fort Belknap Indian Community, said Haaland is the right person for the Interior.

‘She understands us, she is us’: Tribal members in Montana celebrate

Tribal members in Montana celebrated, saying Haaland’s confirmation as Interior Secretary symbolizes progress. 

Andrew Werk Jr., president of the Fort Belknap Indian Community, said Haaland’s confirmation was “like a breath of fresh air.” 

“When you think about this great country and what happened to Native people, it’s not the greatest story at times. A lot of times, this country refuses to have a conscience when it comes to Native people, but that’s changing. It changes by having conversations, by treating others with respect and by righting old wrongs. It also changes when Native people stand up for their rights and fill leadership roles, like Secretary Haaland has. This is just so good. I’m really proud, and for us in Fort Belknap, it’s a great day. It’s a victory,” he said.

Little Shell Chairman Gerald Gray stands with Rep. Sharice Davids (left) and Rep. Deb Haaland (right). The two women made history as they were the first Native American women elected to Congress. Gray met the women at a National Congress of American Indians conference in Washington, D.C.

For subscribers:  ‘A walking legend’: Tribes mourn Duncan Standing Rock, 1 of 2 fluent Chippewa speakers

Werk said he looks forward to working with Haaland and plans to speak with her about the Fort Belknap water settlement. 

Little Shell Tribal Chairman Gerald Gray, said it’s “long overdue” that the Department of the Interior was led by a Native American. He looks forward to seeing Haaland collaborate with tribal nations. 

“This is good tribal relations because she understands us, she is us. She knows and breathes everything we do; she gets it. That’s what’s cool about this. I’m hoping the doors will be open, and we can make some good, positive changes in Indian Country,” he said. 

Sen. Shane Morigeau, D-Missoula, said Haaland’s leadership is a victory for Indigenous representation.

Shane Morigeau

“The symbolism is so important across the country. This matters to Natives; this matters to young women. My nieces consider Secretary Haaland and Rep. Sharice Davids their heroes. Their heroes are strong Native women who are breaking new ground for future generations. It shows the world that we, as Natives, are still here, we’re here to stay and our perspectives, our voices, matter,” he said. 

Rep. Jonathan Windy Boy, D-Box Elder, said there are plenty of Native Americans who are qualified for top roles in the cabinet.

“There’s been qualified people, there’s just never been a president that has looked to Natives for these roles. I’m really glad one of our senators supported her all the way. All I can say is, it’s about time!” he said. 

Rep. Jonathan Windy Boy, D-Box Elder, is the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the Chippewa Cree tribe on Montana’s Rocky Boy’s reservation.

Lance Fourstar, chairman of the Assiniboine Tribe said as Interior Secretary, Haaland will be “a steward of the land.” 

“As Indigenous people, we are stewards of the land. Secretary Haaland has faced some very apparent institutional racism, and her rise to this position speaks to her ability. She’s aware of climate change, and I think she will be instrumental in helping us steer away from the irreparable damage we’ve done,” he said. 

Blackfeet Nation Chairman Timothy Davis said Monday was “a very significant and historic day for all American Indian people.”

“Today, President Biden has assured the American people that his cabinet will reflect American with diversity, dignity, honor, equality and respect. Secretary Haaland exemplifies these principles and will serve the office of Secretary of the Interior with distinction,” he said.

Blackfeet Nation Chairman Timothy Davis

News:  Tribes to receive $31 billion in relief funds from American Rescue Plan

Frank White Clay, chairman of the Crow Tribe, said the tribe now has a “partner in the Department of the Interior” and he looks forward to working with Haaland. 

Ronnie Jo Horse, executive director of Western Native Voice, said the board and staff were “elated” by Haaland’s confirmation. 

“This is a landmark moment for Indigenous leaders young and old, who will now see someone like them with shared values and experiences in a top leadership position in a presidential cabinet. We cannot overstate the positive influence and impact this moment has for Indigenous leadership both now and the next generations to come,” she said. 

‘I don’t think anyone was surprised’: Tribal leaders react to Haaland’s confirmation hearings, delayed vote

For many, Haaland’s two-day hearing and delayed confirmation vote raised questions on bias. While tribal leaders in Montana celebrated her historic confirmation, many said they were not surprised her nomination was contentious. 

Gray said he watched Haaland’s hearings and was disappointed by some senators’ questions.

“Of course Daines voted no, and all of Indian Country in Montana did not support his decision to do that, so it really speaks volumes,” he said. 

Morigeau said compared to other cabinet nominees, Haaland “seemed to get a bit extra opposition.”

“I don’t think anyone was surprised. Like a lot of folks from Indian Country, Deb has thick skin. We’re used to this, and I’m glad people like her keep fighting to bring that representation we need. I’m excited to see her get to work,” he said.

The Secretary and the Department of the Interior are responsible for the conservation of most federal land and natural resources, leading the Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service, among other agencies. 

Nora Mabie can be reached at Please subscribe to the Tribune’s free email newsletter dedicated to tribal news. 

Click to comment

You must be logged in to post a comment Login

Leave a Reply