by Gary Fife/Radio Communications
Okmulgee, Oklahoma—Mvskoke Media was part of a select group of Native American journalism agencies that was invited to speak with the newly confirmed Secretary of the Interior, Deb Haaland, March 17.
Since it was her first day on the job as the 54th Secretary of the Interior, Haaland cautioned that she did not have all the answers and did not yet have an agenda developed regarding future federal policies.
In her opening remarks, Haaland underlined a commitment to a “clean energy revolution” as steward of federal lands, and would be taking in the agendas of all stakeholders in those lands.’
Haaland echoed many of the points already laid out by President Joe Biden. When asked whether or not she had spoken with the President about any of these concerns, she said that opportunity has not come up yet and that it was too early in this administration’s development.
She added that she has been aware of the priorities of non-Native users of those lands and promised to take those opinions into consideration when making decisions. She had been talking with other Members of Congress to gather their opinions for consideration.
The recognition and exercise of tribal sovereignty was a subject repeatedly expressed by the Interior Secretary and staff. Implementation of issues such as the McGirt decision regarding jurisdiction, federal acknowledgement of lands, and tribal membership questions such as the Freedmen enrollment were questions best answered in the exercise of tribal sovereignty.
“Every agency and bureau will be thinking about tribal sovereignty,” Haaland said.
Haaland repeatedly stressed that tribal consultation would be a key method of communication and resolution of issues important to tribal governments. Just how to do that will remain to be seen she added. Some tribes would be financially pressed to use funds to travel to the national seat of government. New technology such as teleconferencing may be an alternative.
Of the limited hard facts Haaland was able to share, she said $900 million will be dedicated to water projects. $850 million will be slated for education.
In wrapping up the short press briefing, Haaland said one of the most important topics will be getting the opinions and priorities of tribal governments, “It is up to the tribes to decide the methods.”
This press briefing was the result of collaboration between the Native American Journalist Association and the U.S. Department of Interior.