Tears. Joy. Amazement. These are words that are rarely associated with the act of governing. Yet last week they flooded social media coming from Indigenous communities who rarely see power as “ours.”
One measure of the week: Hundreds of thousands of people watched Interior Secretary Deb Haaland put her moccasins on before taking the oath of office.
This is Trahant Reports.
Last week Vice President Kamala Harris ceremonially gave the oath of office to Haaland. Then she said: “Congratulations, Madam Secretary. History is being made, yet again.” Haaland is a citizen of Laguna Pueblo.
Madam Secretary has an extraordinary portfolio, managing millions of acres of public lands (far more than any governor). She has direct oversight or significant responsibility for some 60,000 federal employees, U.S. territories around the world, fish and game, geological survey, water management and, of course, the federal government’s relations with tribes.
This history would be amazing all by itself. But the thing is … Haaland is not alone. The administration of President Joe Biden has made a number of key appointments, including, most recently, Janie Hipp, as the general counsel for the Department of Agriculture.
Hipp is a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation. Much of the Department of Agriculture is focused on the industry of food; not food itself. Hipp will bring her experience rethinking how important food, good food, is to society and consumers. I expect her to be at the forefront of reform.
Another reformer is Jamie Pinkham. He’s Nez Perce. His new job is a mouthful. He has been appointed principal deputy assistant secretary of the Army for civil works. He will have a lot to say about the operation of the Army Corps of Engineers.
The role of the Army Corps cannot be understated for tribal nations. This is the agency that grants permits for pipelines to cross rivers. It works on reclamation and dam projects. And this is where Pinkham’s expertise is so significant … he is an expert on salmon. This is the ideal job to try to use the levers of government to restore a healthy salmon environment.
And I should mention that all of these jobs will give Indigenous communities a voice in a way that has not happened ever before.
President Biden has said that climate change is an existential threat. So the government should react in order to make decisions based on that danger. These appointments are clear steps in that direction.
As Minnesota Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan tweeted last week: “I can’t stop crying, happy tears.”
I am Mark Trahant.