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Oklahoma Tribal Leaders Express Confidence In Haaland Confirmation, Despite Sharp Questions

U.S. Congresswoman Deb Haaland

The second day of confirmation hearings for U.S. Representative Deb Haaland concluded on Wednesday. Members of the Senate are weighing whether or not to make Haaland, a citizen of the Laguna Pueblo, the first Native American to head the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Oklahoma tribal leaders are excited to work with the New Mexico Congresswoman if she is confirmed.

Tuesday's confirmation hearings were unlike any Muscogee (Creek) Nation 2nd Chief Del Beaver had ever seen before. He watched the hearing along with Principal Chief David Hill in a socially distanced conference room setting in the tribal nation's complex in Okmulgee. 

"It's hard to put into words how much pride [I] felt," said Beaver. "I have two daughters. And I can point to her and say, hey...that can be you."

Haaland faced some sharp questions from Republican senators about oil and gas extraction, including one moment when Wyoming Senator John Barrasso called some of her views on energy "radical." Still, Beaver said the nomination of an Indigenous person to lead the Interior is long overdue.

Oklahoma Republican Senator James Lankford stated he would not vote for Haaland's confirmation and grilled her about her record on fossil fuels.

“Rep. Haaland’s legislative record and testimony demonstrate her commitment to an unrealistic energy reality," Lankford said. "I cannot support her nomination to serve as the Secretary of the Interior.”

In one exchange, Lankford asked Haaland about energy extraction on tribal lands, citing the Osage Nation's Minerals Council dealing with Bureau of Indian Affairs policies that have hindered the production of their oil and gas operations.

"It’s a significant portion of the income for the Tribe, and it’s significant for the state as well," said Lankford.

Lankford asked Haaland what her standards would be for energy development on Tribal lands — to which she explained she would be willing to look closely at the issue if she was confirmed.

Beaver wasn't surprised by the sharp questioning about Haaland’s comments on oil and gas, but feels like she knows what tribal nations like Muscogee (Creek) Nation need from the BIA — whether it be helping them put more land into trust or approving businesses for economic development.

"We're finally going to have someone in there that knows our voice," Beaver said.

Despite Lankford's opposition, other senators on the committee signaled their support for Haaland. John Hickenlooper from Colorado tweeted, "It's clear that [Deb Haaland] is the right person to lead the Interior Department. She has my full support, and I look forward to working with her to protect our public lands."

Joe Manchin, a critical vote to secure Haaland's confirmation, also appeared ready to support her.

In January, more than two dozen tribal leaders from Oklahoma sent a letter to both Lankford and Senator Jim Inhofe, supporting Haaland's nomination.

"Rep. Haaland cares deeply about rural and western communities and comes from a family of hunters, farmers, and ranchers. She is a team player, and will take a balanced approach on energy and sustainability matters," the letter stated.

In her closing statement, Haaland came full circle — stating her obligation to protect the land.

“Navajo Code Talkers in World War II used the Navajo word for ‘our mother’ as code for ‘the United States.’ I feel very strongly that sums up what we’re dealing with,” said Haaland.

With the hearing complete, a vote on the confirmation should happen in the coming weeks.


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Allison Herrera is a radio and print journalist who's worked for PRX's The World, Colorado Public Radio as the climate and environment editor and as a freelance reporter for High Country News’ Indigenous Affairs desk.
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