Last week, Montana’s lone Congressman signed on to a letter opposing the nomination of Rep. Deb Haaland for Secretary of the Interior, and some Native Americans aren’t happy.
Last Tuesday, 15 Republican Congressmen, including Rep. Matt Rosendale, sent a letter to President Joe Biden opposing the selection of Rep. Deb Haaland, D-NM, for Interior Secretary, saying her nomination was “a direct threat to working men and women and a rejection of responsible development of America’s natural resources.”
Haaland is a tribal citizen of the Pueblo of Laguna in New Mexico. As Secretary of the Interior, she would be the first Native American to oversee the bureaus of Indian Affairs and Indian Education in addition to the Bureau of Land Management, the Geological Survey, the National Park Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service.
In December, when Haaland’s name was announced for the position, national American Indian organizations such as the National Congress of American Indians and tribal leaders praised the nomination. Montana’s tribes, including the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, also celebrated.
“As a council, we work to ensure our issues and concerns are part of the conversation with local, state and federal branches of the government. This appointment helps our efforts to be understood,” said CSKT Chairwoman Shelly R. Fyant in December.
The Congressmen’s letter sent last week attacks Haaland as a supporter of the Green New Deal, an ambitious Congressional resolution to slow climate change by weaning the U.S. off fossil fuels while creating jobs in clean energy industries. But the letter talks little of Haaland after that.
Instead, the letter mostly protests the Green New Deal, using some misleading claims that the resolution would cost the U.S. $93 trillion annually. The letter cites the right-leaning American Action Forum, which calculated the amount as the upper end of a cost range over a decade, not yearly. Meanwhile, economists from Columbia University and the Kato Institute have said no cost can be estimated without specific proposals.
The letter also says Haaland’s support of a halt on oil and gas leasing would kill the industry so Biden should “nominate a concensus-driven individual.” However, under Interior Sec. David Bernhardt, a former oil lobbyist, the oil and gas industry has acquired leases on more than 26 million acres of public land, but about half of those are still waiting to be developed.
Biden has not endorsed the Green New Deal, but he has already frozen any future oil and gas lease sales.
The letter’s main author, Rep. Pete Stauber, R-Minn., drew the ire of the five tribes in his Congressional district in mid-January when they saw a draft of the letter and learned Stauber was recruiting Congressmen to join in opposing Haaland.
The Midwest Alliance of Sovereign Tribes, which represents 35 tribal nations, condemned the lawmaker’s campaign against Haaland. The group’s chair, Aaron Payment, said Stauber had “subordinated the interests of Indian tribes to the interests of those you represent in your letter without any consultation with the tribes.”
Stauber is most concerned with a potential threat to a Twin Metals copper-nickel mine near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, which is mentioned in the letter.
Stauber sits on the House subcommittee on Indigenous Peoples and serves alongside Haaland on the Natural Resources committee. Rosendale has recently joined the Natural Resources committee.
Upon learning of the letter last week, several more Native American groups expressed displeasure, suspecting racist motivations underneath the advocacy for oil and gas extraction.
“Whether or not they consider that to be solid ground to stand on, it’s notable they targeted an Indigenous nominee,” said the Lakota People’s Law Project in a statement. “Let’s signal that we won’t accept some House Republicans targeting Rep. Haaland, no matter their supposed reasons.”
Rosendale communications director Harry Fones said Rosendale signed onto the letter due to policy concerns about Haaland.
“It is ridiculous that race is being brought into this,” Fones said in an email.
The U.S. Senate, not the House, is charged with confirming administration nominees. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will oversee Haaland’s confirmation proceedings, which are still unscheduled. Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., who sits on the committee, has said he would hold Haaland to account for the Biden administration’s plan to stop issuing new leases for oil and gas drilling on federal lands.
Contact reporter Laura Lundquist at firstname.lastname@example.org.