Biden’s Native American Secretary Deb Haaland Makes ‘Tribal Justice’ a Priority

In this March 5, 2020, file photo Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., Native American Caucus co-chair, speaks to reporters about the 2020 Census on Capitol Hill in Washington. President-elect Joe Biden plans to nominate Haaland as interior secretary. The historic pick would make her the first Native American to lead the …
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

President Joe Biden’s Secretary of the Interior, Deb Haaland, the first Native American to lead the federal agency, is making it clear that tribal justice for America’s mistreatment of indigenous peoples is a priority.

She wrote about it in a recent editorial in the Washington Post that indicated the direction going forward in the Biden administration, citing her family’s alleged mistreatment by the U.S. government:

Over nearly 100 years, tens of thousands of Indigenous children were taken from their communities and forced into scores of boarding schools run by religious institutions and the U.S. government. Some studies suggest that by 1926, nearly 83 percent of Native American school-age children were in the system. Many children were doused with DDT upon arrival, and as their coerced re-education got underway, they endured physical abuse for speaking their tribal languages or practicing traditions that didn’t fit into what the government believed was the American ideal. My great-grandfather was taken to Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania. Its founder coined the phrase “kill the Indian, and save the man,” which genuinely reflects the influences that framed these policies at the time.

My family’s story is not unlike that of many other Native American families in this country. We have a generation of lost or injured children who are now the lost or injured aunts, uncles, parents and grandparents of those who live today. I once spent time with my grandmother recording our history for a writing assignment in college. It was the first time I heard her speak candidly about how hard it was — about how a priest gathered the children from the village and put them on a train, and how she missed her family. She spoke of the loneliness she endured. We wept together. It was an exercise in healing for her and a profound lesson for me about the resilience of our people, and even more about how important it is to reclaim what those schools tried to take from our people.

The obligation to correct and heal those unspeakable wrongs extends to today and starts with investments such as those President Biden has made to strengthen tribal sovereignty through the American Rescue Plan, the American Jobs Plan and the budget for fiscal 2022. Our administration has set out to forge a new path to engage with tribal communities and to live up to its trust and treaty responsibilities. But that obligation also requires that all Americans listen and learn, that we allow federal boarding school survivors and their families an opportunity to be heard, and that we engage in meaningful tribal consultation to seek justice. Though it is uncomfortable to learn that the country you love is capable of committing such acts, the first step to justice is acknowledging these painful truths and gaining a full understanding of their impacts so that we can unravel the threads of trauma and injustice that linger. We have a long road of healing ahead of us, but together with tribal nations, I am sure that we can work together for a future that we will all be proud to embrace.

The DOI announced on Monday that it is designating an 80-acre parcel of federal property at the former NOAA Pacific Tsunami Warning Center on O‘ahu for inclusion in the Hawaiian Home Lands Trust.


“Residential lots on Oʻahu are of the highest demand from applicants on the waiting list,” William J. Aila Jr., chairman of the Hawaiian Homes Commission said of the development.

“This land transfer is an opportunity for beneficiaries that is truly in line with the spirit of the Hawaiian Home Lands Recovery Act,” he added.

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