President-elect Joe Biden has picked New Mexico Congressmember Deb Haaland to become secretary of the interior. If confirmed, Haaland will be the first Native American to serve in a Cabinet position. Haaland’s nomination was backed by progressives, as well as more than 120 tribal leaders, who sent a letter to Biden last month urging him to select her for the post. “That was a very, very important step for the Biden administration,” says Winona LaDuke, executive director of Honor the Earth, rural development economist and Native American activist. “Indian people know how to take care of this land.”
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The Quarantine Report. I’m Amy Goodman.
President-elect Joe Biden has nominated New Mexico Congressmember Deb Haaland to become secretary of the interior. If confirmed, she’ll be the first Native American to serve in a Cabinet position. Haaland’s nomination was backed by progressives, as well as more than 120 tribal leaders, who sent a letter to Joe Biden last month urging him to select her for the post.
Haaland responded in a statement, quote, “As our country faces the impacts of climate change and environmental injustice, the Interior has a role and I will be a partner in addressing these challenges by protecting our public lands and moving our country towards a clean energy future,” she said.
Journalist Julian Brave NoiseCat tweeted, “After four years of fossil fuel executives and lobbyists opening up Native lands and sacred sites to industry tycoons, the next Secretary of Interior will be a Laguna Pueblo woman who went to Standing Rock in 2016 and cooked for the people,” unquote.
Deb Haaland’s appointment comes as the struggle against the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline continues in Minnesota after construction began two weeks ago. Indigenous and environmental activists have been holding daily protests against the project, which would carry tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada, to a terminal in Superior, Wisconsin, cutting through Indigenous territory and running under more than 200 streams. On Monday, 22 water protectors were arrested in the freezing cold at a Line 3 construction site.
Well, for more on Deb Haaland’s historic nomination and the ongoing resistance at Line 3, we’re joined in Sandy Lake, Minnesota, by Winona LaDuke, executive director of Honor the Earth and rural development economist. She is the author of the upcoming book, To Be a Water Protector. Winona lives and works on the White Earth Reservation in northern Minnesota.
Winona, welcome back to Democracy Now! Can you start off by talking about the significance of Deb Haaland to be the first Native American to head the Interior Department, if approved by the Senate — not to mention to be a Cabinet member, as far as we know? You are a longtime supporter of her, back to when she ran for Congress.
WINONA LADUKE: I just want to say one thing: [ululation]. That would be an affirmation from all of us over here in Indian Country.
You know, that was a very, very important step for the Biden administration. You know, Indian people know how to take care of this land. And Deb Haaland comes from Laguna Pueblo, which has one of the largest uranium mining histories in this country. And I just want to really — you know, the Anaconda uranium mine destroying so much of their territory.
Really grateful for this and this new — this vision that we’re going to have. There’s a lot of work to do to undo what the Trump administration has done. And we are really, really grateful that the Biden administration has taken these steps.
AMY GOODMAN: And can you talk about what Deb Haaland stands for — she is a congressmember from New Mexico; she talked immediately about sustainable development — and what the Interior Department does?
WINONA LADUKE: Well, the Interior Department is kind of like the “Great White Father” of Indian people. And so, mines and Indians are both in the same department. And what’s happened is, is that the Interior Department and the federal government has basically given away so much of the land, water and resources of Indian Country under the Trump administration and previous administrations. And so, you know, let’s just say the public lands and the Native lands should be protected for the public and the Natives, not necessarily some mining corporations.
Deb’s history here with a vision that she and other leaders have had in Washington with a just transition and the Green New Deal is exactly what we need in this country. We don’t need any more fossil fuels. We’re done. We’re done. What we need is the vision and a just transition.
AMY GOODMAN: And who has run the Interior Department before? I mean, what have been the policies before? And what are the pressures she’ll be under? Many have talked about Joe Biden’s Cabinet being largely still from corporate establishment America, and certainly Deb Haaland comes from a very different place.
WINONA LADUKE: Yeah, I mean, I’m sure that Deb can stand up to the challenges, and she’ll have a lot of support. I mean, I think that we should be done with appointing corporate heads to run parts of our government. They have enough influence already.
And so, in this moment in time, you have vast territories of lands that she is going to be able to look at and really provide some redress from what the Trump administration has done, basically deconstructing any environmental regulations we had and any protection of “public lands” that we had. You know, so significant prior to this, all white males in this position. And so we’re really grateful that the new administration has seen the merits of the championship of the environment and of Native people of someone like Deb Haaland.