SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s Native American tribes are reacting to President-elect Joe Biden’s historic pick to lead the Department of the Interior.
Congresswoman Deb Haaland, once confirmed, would be the first Native American to lead the Interior Department, marking a historic moment for America’s indigenous peoples.
“To have an American Indian elevated to this high of a post is truly an amazing moment in the history of federal and tribal relations,” said University of Utah Professor Elizabeth Kronk Warner, an expert in environmental and Indian law.
There are eight tribal nations in the State of Utah, each with unique needs.
Haaland’s cabinet position will give her the opportunity to change the relationship the US government has with native peoples.
“To have her voice, a native voice with that type of experience, is priceless, I think. The Interior makes important decisions that affect the lives of Native American health, education, as well as land. So, I think tribes will be very happy with this decision,” said Dustin Jansen, Director of the Utah Division Indian Affairs.
In her role, Haaland will oversee the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the National Park Services and the Bureau of Land Management. 46 percent of Utah’s land is run by the federal government.
“[Haaland] comes from a state, New Mexico, that also has a lot of natural resources and public lands, so I think she's well aware of kind of the dynamic that we see in Utah with trying to find different uses of that land,” said James Singer, co-founder of the Utah League of Native American Voters.
With Haaland’s nomination, there’s renewed hope in restoring bears ears National Monument after President Tump shrunk the monument to 15 percent of its original acreage.
Biden has talked about restoring the tribal lands to its original bounds when he takes office, and Haaland could play a key role.
“I really do see eepresentative Haaland and, hopefully, soon-to-be-Secretary Haaland, bridging that gap and showing that tribes, states and the federal government can work together, and work together in a way that benefits all governments," Warner said.