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Guest opinion: Deb Haaland is the right person for Interior

Guest opinion: Deb Haaland is the right person for Interior

Whitehead and Haaland

Bill Whitehead and Deb Haaland

Congresswoman Deb Haaland is the right person to lead the Department of Interior.

Her record as a public servant combined with her story make her uniquely qualified to lead this agency. Now, more than ever, we need a leader who will help us heal the wounds of division that challenge our country. As the first Native American nominated to lead the Department of Interior, Haaland’s nomination is historic — and has profound meaning to Native Americans and Native tribes like my own.

I am an enrolled member of the Assiniboine & Sioux Nations. I was born in Poplar on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation and have lived here all my life.

I currently serve as Chairman of the Board for both the Assiniboine & Sioux Rural Water Supply System and the Native American Development Corporation in Billings. I have served in both the Montana House of Representatives and on the Fort Peck Tribal Council. I’m also a U.S. Army Veteran and an active member of the Northern Plains Resource Council.

These roles represent my responsibility to my country, my tribe, my community, and to the next seven generations. My responsibility to care for the water, land, and air extends from there. Haaland’s record indicates that she, too, upholds these sacred responsibilities and takes seriously the call to seek common ground in order to serve the common good.

Haaland introduced the most bills with bipartisan cosponsors of all House freshmen in 2019, respectfully giving colleagues on both sides of the aisle equal time to deliberate and debate during her subcommittee’s hearings. She built meaningful relationships with Republican House and Senate members over issues like military housing protections and Missing and Murdered Indigenous People.

Haaland is also a Westerner like us, and will make sure Western priorities are represented. She knows the complicated and sometimes challenging relationship between the Department of Interior, tribes, and Western states. She comes from this land, and her love of place underpins her commitment to responsibly manage and care for our shared resources.

After everything the pandemic has put us through, Congresswoman Haaland is the voice we need to address economic recovery. She is not part of the political elite, despite accusations to the contrary by big corporations who seek politicians that can be bought and sold. Haaland comes from humble beginnings — growing up in a military family, attending thirteen different public schools, and living paycheck to paycheck for much of her young adulthood. Eventually, she started a small business called Pueblo Salsa that she ultimately sold in 2005.

Congresswoman Haaland understands the struggles that families and small business owners face, and knows that families are worried most of all about putting food on the table, raising their children, and paying the bills.

Perhaps most importantly — the agency Congresswoman Haaland is nominated to lead has a unique responsibility to Native people. The Department of the Interior is charged with carrying out this country’s trust and treaty responsibilities to Native people, maintaining the government-to-government relationship with federally recognized tribes, and supporting tribal self-determination.

Despite that, the Department of Interior has never been led by a Native American. It’s well past time for the Department to be led by someone who represents the communities and people whose lives it impacts most.

With all of this in mind, I’m deeply disappointed by Senator Daines and Congressman Rosendale’s hostile opposition to Congresswoman Haaland’s nomination to be the next Secretary for the Department of Interior. Daines and Rosendale are on the wrong side of history, as the Montana Legislature’s Indian Caucus has formally noted.

Senator Daines and Congressman Rosendale, it’s not too late for you to stand with those of us supporting the Congresswoman’s historic nomination to Secretary of Interior — and stand on the right side of history. Deb Haaland is the right person for this job, and now is the right time for her leadership.

Bill Whitehead is Chairman of the Board for both the Assiniboine & Sioux Rural Water Supply System and the Native American Development Corporation. He is also a member of the Northern Plains Resource Council, a grassroots conservation and family agriculture organization.


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