Representatives from leftist groups parked a mobile digital billboard outside of the Department of Interior’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. Thursday to praise newly-minted Secretary Deb Haaland, the first Native American to head the agency in charge of some 500 million acres, or about one-fifth, of the land in the United States.
The activists who sponsored the display billed themselves as “Indigenous women, environmental advocates, and citizens concerned about climate change.”
The messages displayed on the billboard reveal what direction they want Haaland to take while leading the agency.
“Secretary Haaland will be a fierce advocate for clean air and water, for our land, and for its relatives,” Nikki Pitre, executive director at the Center for Native American Youth, said.
“This is a proud moment for Indigenous people! Secretary Haaland is the fierce leader we need. She’ll lead us like our ancestors have — from our cultural foundations and teachings rooted in Mother Earth,” Allie Young, director of Protect the Sacred, said.
“Secretary Haaland is the perfect person to lead the interior department. She brings the Indigenous understanding that the present is where our collective past connects to our collective future,” Judith LeBlanc, director of Native Organizers Alliance, said.
“Secretary Haaland, may our ancestors guide and protect your leadership. Indigenous women will continue to fight fiercely for reflective representation so you are the first of many,” Anathea Chino, co-founder and executive director of Advance Native Political Leadership, said.
“There has always been Two Spirit Warriors and Indigenous Womxn in positions of power since before first contact. Today, we are fierce, evolved versions of our ancestors they could not kill,” Candi Brings Plenty, Oglala Lakota Sioux/Indigenous justice organizer and lobbyist with the ACLU, said.
“You are the reflection of our ancestors. Lead with compassion as so many grandmothers did before you. Honor our treaties as it is the supreme law of the land and continue to fight against injustice,” Krystal Curley, executive director of Indigenous Life Ways, said.
“Native leadership and values are crucial to protecting the planet for future generations. We are proud of and support Secretary Haaland as she continues to make history!” Crystal Echo Hawk, founder and executive director of IllumiNative, said.
The other groups involved in the billboard project include UltraViolet, ACLU South Dakota, and the Center for Native American Youth at the Aspen Institute.
“We have many reasons to celebrate Interior Secretary Deb Haaland,” Elisa Batista, campaign director at UltraViolet, said in a press release announcing the billboard. “Besides her historic nomination, she is exactly the type of experienced public lands champion we need at the helm of Interior to implement the Biden-Harris conservation and climate plan, expand access to the outdoors, and put people before oil and gas profits.”
“For years, Secretary Deb Haaland has been at the forefront of crafting thoughtful solutions to combating the climate crisis through America’s public lands,” Batista said.
“After four years of the Trump administration looting our public lands and wreaking havoc on our climate and environment, Deb Haaland has the experience and drive needed to put us back on the right path,” Batista said.
Haaland has expressed support for President Joe Biden’s promise to ban all oil drilling leases on public land but has also signaled she will protect those same drilling leases on Indian land.
Indian tribes and western states with public land both benefit from oil and gas production because of royalties and other fees.
Follow Penny Starr on Twitter or send news tips to firstname.lastname@example.org