By J1 reporter Kenzie Darrow
A new addition in government has given Native Americans across the nation a reason to celebrate. Deb Haaland’s position as the 54th United States Secretary of the Interior allows Native Americans to have greater representation and a valued voice in government. This is truly a historical feat, as Haaland is the first Native American Cabinet Secretary in the history of the United States.
While the news of Haaland’s successful run is impressive, it is not shocking to most. Haaland has always been a trailblazer known to provoke change. For instance, Haaland is not only the first Native American to serve as a Cabinet Secretary, but also the first woman elected to the Laguna Development Corporation Board of Directors, the only one of two Native American women to be elected into Congress, and the first Native American woman to be elected to lead a state party.
Haaland was born in 1960, when Native Americans still could not vote in most U.S. states. The last state to allow Native Americans to vote was Utah in 1963. However, Native people would have to wait until the 1965 Voting Rights Act to gain any help strengthening their long awaited voting rights. Regardless, this act among others could not protect them from the discrimination and hate they faced while voting.
Compared to other minority groups, the turnout for Native American voting is the lowest in the country. This is due to a combination of factors such as language barriers, a gradual loss of trust in the government, lack of access to polls, and socioeconomic disparities.
Nevertheless, the leading reason can be rooted in widespread poverty in the Native American community. According to the 2018 U.S. Census, the poverty rate stands as the highest among all minority groups with 25.4% of Native Americans living in poverty. This percentage is expected to increase since Native Americans are also the most heavily impacted ethnicity in the U.S. by COVID-19. This is one of the major issues Haaland plans on addressing with her new title.
As the Secretary of the Interior, Haaland will focus on the use and conservation of federal lands. She will also be in charge of protecting tribal and ancestral lands, treaties, resources, assets, and similarly recognized rights.
Countless Native Americans have placed hope and trust in Haaland. Many in the Native community have spoken out to say that having a Native leader in a government role is not only transformational but revolutionary.
For most, the support behind Haaland is driven by the hope that they have been given a voice and that she can be an advocate for all.
In less than a month, Haaland has proven to be an active voice for those whose voices have been silenced. On April 1, Haaland announced the creation of the Missing and Murdered Unit in the Bureau of Indian Affairs Office of Justice Services. “Violence against Indigenous peoples is a crisis that has been underfunded for decades. Far too often, murders and missing persons cases in Indian country go unsolved and unaddressed, leaving families and communities devastated,” Haaland explained in a public statement. This new unit brings not only hope to the families of missing and cold case victims but also great aspirations to what Haaland might do next.
“I think it’s important to always have diversity, in our Congress or anywhere, but you also need diversity not just for women of color who are most underrepresented, but diversity in different walks of life,” Haaland said.
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