Public lands top Rep. Debra Haaland’s agenda

One of the first Native American women elected to Congress is fighting fossil fuel development on ‘the most pristine and beautiful places in our country.’

 

This article was originally published by the Guardian and is republished here by permission.

While she was campaigning for a seat in the U.S. Congress last year, Deb Haaland went camping for four days. It was less a surprisingly timed vacation and more a return home.

Her destination was notable: Utah’s Bears Ears National Monument, which President Donald Trump controversially downsized in 2017 as part of a bid to encourage resource extraction. She wanted to experience “a living landscape” where the art and artifacts of her people, the Indigenous Pueblo, are still abundant. She spent the trip hiking in and out of steep canyons and marveled at the area’s famed Moon House, a cliff dwelling and storage facility that dates back 800 years.

The New Mexico congresswoman Debra Haaland at her desk inside of her office at the Longworth office building in Washington, D.C.

“There are some pretty amazing ruins there, and you know, I don’t even like to call them ruins,” Haaland says, “because in our culture, in Pueblo culture, if you acknowledge our ancestors, they are there. The spirit of the people never leaves.”

Haaland has now become a powerful advocate for U.S. public lands in the face of the Trump administration. In November, Haaland, a member of the Laguna Pueblo tribe, won her New Mexico seat, becoming one of the first two Native American women ever elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. (The other, Sharice Davids, is a Kansas congresswoman who belongs to the Ho-Chunk nation.)

“My ancestors migrated to what is now New Mexico, where the Pueblo Indians live, back in the late 1200s,” Haaland told the Guardian in a recent interview. “No one else can claim that they have been there any longer than our people, than the Pueblo people. I feel like perhaps my voice is important right now to testify to our longstanding care for the land.”

With Haaland in office, “we now have a Native American right there in the decisionmakers’ room,” said Shaun Chapoose, the co-chair of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition and a member of the governing body of the Ute Indian tribe. “She is a Native American and she understands our traditions and she is in a place where she can educate lawmakers.”

She understands, for instance, that almost every parcel of public land in the U.S. is land that Native peoples have inhabited or used for material and spiritual purposes. When the United States government used violence and coercion to force Indigenous tribes on to reservations, Native people did not suddenly lose their connection to it.

“Our sacred sites are all over the public lands,” said Haaland.

Bears Ears, home to thousands of Indigenous ancestral sites, is a prime example. In December 2017, in response to the desires of conservative pressure groups and oil, gas and mining interests, the Trump administration announced that it would drastically shrink the boundaries of the monument, which the Obama administration established in late 2016. The move was an affront to the many Native American tribes, including the Navajo, Ute and Hopi people, who had advocated for years for the monument’s creation in order to protect their heritage.

“Trump turned around and basically told the tribes, ‘hey, you ain’t got no say, just sit there and take what I give you,’” said Chapoose.

Representative Haaland’s office is full of family photographs and Native American pottery.

After joining Congress, Haaland was made the vice president of the House Natural Resources Committee, a key legislative body that crafts environmental laws and has jurisdiction over critical issues like climate change. It was a plum position for someone in office only a few weeks.

Haaland dove almost immediately into the fight over Bears Ears, denouncing the monument downsizing during hearings on Capitol Hill and co-sponsoring bills that would restore protections to Bears Ears and prevent the executive branch from shrinking or abolishing national monuments in the future.

Given Republican control of the Senate and the White House, these bills have a murky future.

Bears Ears and the broader southwest, Haaland says, are “my homeland. It is proper for me to want to protect it.” She feels similarly about New Mexico’s Chaco Canyon national historic park, the site of a high-desert Indigenous settlement that was a major center of Pueblo culture dating back to 850 A.D.

Today, the park is threatened with a rash of proposed oil and gas development on nearby lands, and Haaland isn’t happy about it. In April, she helped lead a congressional delegation to the site to build support for a bill she is co-sponsoring that would ban all oil and gas drilling within a 10-mile radius of the park. Haaland and her colleagues toured the park’s abundant ancient dwellings and used infrared cameras to observe the plumes of methane that adjacent oil and gas drilling constantly leaks into the air.

“I just feel like our priorities are so messed up right now,” she said. “We need to protect every single open space that we possibly can,” including Chaco, Bears Ears and more.

Haaland’s work on behalf of the public lands is not solely about protecting Indigenous sacred sites. She is also deeply concerned about the climate crisis.

Tom Solomon, a co-coordinator for the climate group 350 New Mexico, said that Haaland “has been a pretty fierce climate advocate for a long time”. Before she went to Washington, D.C., Solomon says Haaland was “instrumental” in building bridges between the environmental movement and Indigenous communities in New Mexico in support of legislation that commits public utilities in the state to stringent clean and renewable energy standards by 2045. That legislation, called the Energy Transition Act, was signed into law in New Mexico in March 2019.

Haaland says she would ultimately like to see fossil fuel development phased out completely on the federal domain. “I am wholeheartedly against fracking and drilling on public lands,” she said. She is also a staunch supporter of the Green New Deal, a nascent plan to rapidly end America’s reliance on fossil fuels, restore its ecosystems and rebuild its infrastructure.

“Public lands are a statement about who we are as Americans,” Haaland said. “The most pristine and beautiful places in our country should never belong to one person.”

Jimmy Tobias is a contributing writer for the GuardianEmail High Country News at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor.

High Country News Classifieds
  • COMMUNICATIONS AND OUTREACH ASSOCIATE
    Communications and Outreach Associate Position Opening: www.westernlaw.org/communications-outreach-associate ************************************************* Location: Western U.S., ideally in one of WELC's existing office locations (Santa Fe or Taos, NM, Helena,...
  • FREELANCE GRAPHIC DESIGNER & PROJECT COORDINATOR (REMOTE)
    High Country News (HCN) is seeking a contract Graphic Designer & Project Coordinator to design promotional, marketing and fund-raising assets and campaigns, and project-manage them...
  • FILM AND DIGITAL MEDIA: ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF INDIGENOUS MEDIA, CULTURAL SOVEREIGNTY AND DECOLONIZATION (INITIAL REVIEW 12.1.21)
    Film and Digital Media: Assistant Professor of Indigenous Media, Cultural Sovereignty and Decolonization (Initial Review 12.1.21) Position overview Position title: Assistant Professor - tenure-track Salary...
  • REAL ESTATE SPECIALIST
    To learn more about this position and to apply please go to the following URL.
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    "More Data, Less Digging" Find groundwater and reduce excavation costs!
  • RARE CHIRICAHUA RIPARIAN LAND FOR SALE
    40 acres: 110 miles from Tucson: native trees, grasses: birder's heaven::dark sky/ borders state lease & National forest/5100 ft/13-16 per annum rain
  • CENTRAL PARK CULTURAL RESOURCE SPECIALIST
    Agency: Oregon Parks and Recreation Department Salary Range: $5,203 - $7,996 Position Title: Central Park Cultural Resource Specialist Do you have a background in Archaeology...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    Come live and work in one of the most beautiful places in the world! As our Staff Attorney you will play a key role in...
  • ARIZONA GRAZING CLEARINGHOUSE
    Dedicated to preventing the ecological degradation caused by livestock grazing on Arizona's public lands, and exposing the government subsidies that support it.
  • OPERATIONS MANAGER
    Position Summary: Friends of the Inyo (friendsoftheinyo.org) is seeking a new Operations Manager. The Operations Manager position is a full-time permanent position that reports directly...
  • WATER RIGHTS BUREAU CHIEF
    Water Rights Bureau Chief, State of Montana, DNRC, Water Resources Division, Helena, MT Working to support and implement the Department's mission to help ensure that...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Amargosa Conservancy (AC), a conservation nonprofit dedicated to standing up for water and biodiversity in the Death Valley region, seeks an executive director to...
  • DEVELOPMENT & OUTREACH ASSOCIATE
    Southeast Alaska Conservation Council is hiring! Who We Are: The Southeast Alaska Conservation Council (SEACC) is a small grassroots nonprofit based out of Juneau, Alaska,...
  • DESERT LANDS ORGANIZER
    Position Summary: Friends of the Inyo seeks a Desert Lands Organizer to assist with existing campaigns that will defend lands in the California desert, with...
  • IDAHO CONSERVATION LEAGUE
    Want to help preserve Idaho's land, water, and air for future generations? Idaho Conservation League currently has 3 open positions. We are looking for a...
  • LUNATEC ODOR-FREE DISHCLOTHS
    are a must try. They stay odor-free, dry fast, are durable and don't require machine washing. Try today.
  • EVENTS AND ANNUAL FUND COORDINATOR
    The Events and Annual Fund Coordinator is responsible for managing and coordinating the Henry's Fork Foundation's fundraising events for growing the membership base, renewing and...
  • EDUCATION DIRECTOR
    Position Description: The Education Director is the primary leader of Colorado Canyons Association's (CCA) education programs for students and adults on the land and rivers...
  • 10 ACRES OF NEW MEXICO HIGH DESERT
    10 Acres of undeveloped high desert land in central NM, about 45 minutes from downtown Albuquerque. Mixed cedar and piñon pine cover. Some dirt roadways...
  • WATERSHED RESTORATION DIRECTOR
    $58k-$70k + benefits to oversee watershed restoration projects that fulfill our strategic goals across urban and rural areas within the bi-national Santa Cruz and San...