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Haaland’s nomination meaningful

At the urging of some to include a Native American in his Cabinet, President-elect Joe Biden has nominated U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland, D-New Mexico, as secretary of the Interior Department.

If confirmed by the Senate, Haaland, a member of the Pueblo of Laguna, will be the first Native American to serve in the Cabinet. That’s appropriate because the Interior Department is responsible for managing the nation’s public lands, as well as also honoring its treaties with the Indigenous people from whom those lands were taken.

In a statement released after this month’s nomination, the Biden-Harris transition team called Haaland a “barrier-breaking public servant who has spent her career fighting for families, including in Tribal Nations, rural communities and communities of color,” who will be “ready on Day 1 to protect our environment and fight for a clean energy future.”

This is a big step in the right direction to reforming the government’s relationship with Native Americans. The effort must continue to be a priority.

More can be accomplished through the Interior Department as it administers federal programs dealing with Native Americans.

The relationship is unique. In some ways, it treats Native American governments like states.

How Native Americans were treated during much of our history is a national shame. They were forced off their land and often settled on reservations no white settlers wanted. Individually, many Native Americans were treated as misguided children who needed to be remade in the white majority’s image.

All of that was discarded many years ago — theoretically. But as matters stand, many Native Americans lack opportunities taken for granted by most people in our nation.

Clearly, a top-to-bottom re-evaluation of the federal government’s relationship with Native Americans is needed. Appointing Haaland, a Native American, as head of the Interior Department would be a gigantic step toward making that happen.

Regardless of the appointment, change is needed on a very basic level.

editorial@tribtoday.com

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