Newly Elected Native Congresswoman Deb Haaland on Climate Change and Suppression of Native Votes

Web ExclusiveNovember 09, 2018
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Web-only conversation with Deb Haaland of New Mexico, who just made history, along with Sharice Davids of Kansas. In January, they will be sworn in as the first Native American congresswomen. Haaland won in the 1st Congressional District of New Mexico, defeating Republican Janice Arnold-Jones.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh, as we continue our conversation with Deb Haaland, one of two Native American women who have made history by becoming the nation’s first Native congresswomen. Democrat Deb Haaland won New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District, defeating Janice Arnold-Jones. Deb Haaland campaigned on progressive issues, including climate change, renewable energy, universal healthcare and a $15 minimum wage.

She also ran promising to combat severe drought in New Mexico, which the Union of Concerned Scientists said is caused by climate change. Currently less than one-quarter of 1 percent of the state is drought-free. The Rio Grande has reached record-low water levels. Both the farming and fishing industries are under threat. And according to a report by the Poor People’s Campaign and the Institute for Policy Studies, 13 of the 20 most water poor counties in the U.S. were majority Native.

So, Congressmember-elect Deb Haaland, first of all, once again, congratulations.

REP.-ELECT DEB HAALAND: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: And as we dig right into the issues, can you talk about the impact of climate change on New Mexico? And what is your agenda to tackle it in Washington?

REP.-ELECT DEB HAALAND: Absolutely. Well, you know, growing—I’ve lived here—my dad was in the Marine Corps, so we moved back to New Mexico when I was about 14 years old. And even, you know, that wasn’t too long ago. We had winters, every single winter here in New Mexico—we’re high desert, at 5,000 feet, so it snows a lot here, or it’s supposed to snow. And last winter, we didn’t get any snow, and barely got any snow at all across the state. You know, it’s just a worry for me, when I remember how it used to be as a child here in New Mexico.

So, yes, the Southwest is going to get hit the hardest, with—when, you know, things start heating up with climate change. And now is absolutely the time to do something about it. We have—you know, New Mexico has over 310 days of sun per year. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be a global leader in renewable energy right now. So, I am going to work toward that. I know there are several bills that I could sign onto.

I also want to make sure—you might also know, Amy, that we have a large gas and oil industry in New Mexico. I don’t want anyone to lose their jobs overnight. I want to make sure that we protect those families who are working. But I’d like to see if we can offer folks in that industry an opportunity at education, so they can—if they would like to be free to move to a different industry to support their families, that would be an option. But I really believe that these renewable energy jobs could be livable-wage jobs, not just minimum-wage jobs. So, those are things that I think we should always talk about, that we can move forward with. And so, I think that’s a start.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, I want to ask about voter suppression of Native Americans by turning to a clip from independent journalist Jenni Monet. On Tuesday, Monet visited Spirit Lake Reservation in North Dakota to report on the problems created by North Dakota’s recently enacted strict voter ID laws, which threaten to disenfranchise Native Americans. Monet spoke with tribal resident Darci Smith, a Spirit Lake tribal citizen who described the scene at her local reservation polling place.

DARCI SMITH: What I’ve noticed is there’s a lot more people voting today than there has been when I voted in the past.

JENNI MONET: Wow!

DARCI SMITH: And my programs helped bring high school kids to come vote today, so I’ve noticed that there’s a lot more young people voting than I thought would. But so, that’s been nice to see.

JENNI MONET: Just last quick question: Spirit Lake was a part of the lawsuit that got filed last week to try to block this. What’s your—what were your overall thoughts in reaction to this voter ID law and the problems that it was causing?

DARCI SMITH: I think it shows that they just—we kind of won the vote last time. That’s what’s widely said, is that we helped Heidi Heitkamp win. And they know our voice matters and we can turn out in numbers when we want to. So, them trying to block our vote is just making people want to vote more.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So that was Spirit Lake tribal citizen Darci Smith speaking with Native independent journalist Jenni Monet. So, can you talk about these voter ID laws and how they’ve been impacting Native Americans wanting to vote?

REP.-ELECT DEB HAALAND: Right. Well, it’s really shameful. You know, Republicans do that because they want to win. And the only way they can win sometimes is to cheat. And so, putting roadblocks up in front of underrepresented communities is one way they can fulfill their agenda.

You know, Native Americans have struggled across the country for—you know, we weren’t citizens until 1924 here in New Mexico. They couldn’t—Indians couldn’t vote until 1948, when a member of the Isleta Pueblo sued the state of New Mexico after he came back from World War II and couldn’t vote.

So, we need to exert our rights. I’m an organizer. I’ve been one here in New Mexico for almost 20 years. I’ve been getting out the vote in Indian country for that long, registering voters and making sure they can get to the polls. I’m passionate about our right to vote. So, I absolutely will work on this issue when I go to Congress. I believe Senator Tom Udall from New Mexico is working on a voting rights bill for Native Americans. And so, you know, it’s a fundamental right that we all share as American citizens, and we need to put a stop to this once and for all.

AMY GOODMAN: You know, this was—this particular suit was brought by the Spirit Lake Tribe in North Dakota to stop North Dakota from enforcing the new voter ID requirement, a federal judge temporarily blocking the stricter voter ID law, which would require voters to show identification demonstrating a residential street address.

REP.-ELECT DEB HAALAND: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, for all of that happening in the lead-up to this midterm election, do you think it affected the outcome of the North Dakota elections? You know, this, we saw the defeat of Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota.

REP.-ELECT DEB HAALAND: Well, I understood that there were some Indian communities—well, first of all, the tribal leaders and the voting rights organizations, who really helped to make sure that tribal members had a qualified ID to vote, that—you know, they scrambled to do that. And I understand that in some communities, that the voting was up. And that’s definitely a good thing. You know, it’s hard to say; I haven’t examined the outcome of that election. Regardless of whether the Democrat got elected or not, we definitely have to—we have to do something about voting rights in this country. It wasn’t just North Dakota. It was Georgia. African-American voters in Georgia and Hispanic voters in Kansas, in Dodge City. Everywhere, you know, it seems like any opportunity the Republicans have to oppress voters, they do that. So, I definitely will go to Congress to fight for that right.

AMY GOODMAN: You know, many young people look at electoral politics and wonder how they can enter it. I’m wondering, Deb Haaland, if you can talk about how you did—particularly people of color and women of color—how you ended up entering electoral politics. Talk about your life.

REP.-ELECT DEB HAALAND: Right. Well, you know, I’ve been organizing here in New Mexico for going on 20 years. I started out as a phone volunteer. I decided, just to myself, that I wanted more Native Americans to vote. You know, in 2002, Tim Johnson in South Dakota narrowly won his seat because of the Native American vote. And that was my initial inspiration to saying more Native people should vote. And so I just started walking into campaign offices here in Albuquerque, for candidates I liked, and asking for a list of Native Americans, and I would call those lists. That eventually turned into me showing up on people’s doors, joining campaigns. I was a full-time volunteer for Barack Obama in 2008 in Indian country. And in 2012, I was hired as a state Native American vote director. Neither one of my parents have a college education. They’re not politically connected in any way. I didn’t get any breaks. You know, I didn’t get, you know, a friend of a friend to appoint me to any office or anything here in New Mexico. I simply wanted to get more people out to vote. And so, I feel like, for me, I worked extremely hard. I ran for office in 2014. I ran for lieutenant governor here in New Mexico. And then, in 2015, I ran for and won my seat for state chairwoman of the party.

I think anybody can follow that path. If you have a desire to make a difference in your community, that’s really how it starts. I never dreamed that I would run for Congress. However, it seemed evident that I could win if I did run, when I decided to file in 2017. So, I really encourage—I was asked the other night how—you know, what I would say to young Native girls out there. And I said that they should run for class president. They should be leaders on their soccer teams. And they should just, you know, be active in their communities, because all that work eventually will give you the network you need. You know, you’ll get to know people. You’ll understand what your community and your state is about. And so, I really do truly feel like community involvement and community organizing is definitely a path that anyone can take.

AMY GOODMAN: Deb Haaland, during the presidential election year of 2016, you were up at Standing Rock in North Dakota? You were part of the standoff there, where Native Americans—

REP.-ELECT DEB HAALAND: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: —led by the Standing Rock Sioux, took on the Dakota Access pipeline and Energy Transfer Partners to try to stop them from building that pipeline?

REP.-ELECT DEB HAALAND: Yes, yes. I went in September of 2016. I had been following the movement on social media for a long time, and I just felt like I needed to go. So I did go. I was able to go to the tribal administration building and help that—you know, the chairman. They had workers or employ—staff who were working hard on gaining support for the tribe. And so, I actually was able to join that effort. And I brought some green chili from New Mexico, and we cooked at the chairman’s camp. You know, that’s what we do in Indian country. When you can share a meal with people, it makes you all stronger together. And so, I did that. I was honored and proud to stand with the water protectors there. And I just felt like that was an important time in history.

AMY GOODMAN: Deb Haaland, the new congresswoman-elect from New Mexico. Along with Sharice Davids of Kansas, they are the first two Native American women elected to Congress. Deb Haaland is a member of the Pueblo of Laguna and former chair of the Democratic Party of New Mexico.

To see Part 1 of our conversation, go to democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh. Thanks so much for joining us.

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