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Oneida Nation reacts to historic confirmation of first Native American cabinet member

Published: Mar. 15, 2021 at 9:22 PM CDT
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ONEIDA, Wis. (WBAY) - The Senate confirmed New Mexico Rep. Deb Haaland as President Biden’s interior secretary Monday.

It makes Haaland, a member of the Laguna Pueblo Tribe, the first Native American to hold a cabinet position.

“The initial reaction is always like ‘It’s about time,’” said Oneida Nation Vice Chairman Brandon Yellowbird Stevens.

Yellowbird Stevens says seeing Haaland officially confirmed as Interior Secretary did bring a lot of joy.

“It felt good. As a tribal leader it felt really good,” said Yellowbird Stevens. “As a community member it felt ecstatic.”

Aside from bringing more visibility to Indian Country he notes having an indigenous person lead the Department of the Interior, which manages the nation’s natural resources, is vitally important.

“It gives us not only a seat at the table but someone there who’s representing us that is bringing our agenda with her,” said Yellowbird Stevens.

Yellowbird Stevens thinks it will be slow going switching to more sustainable energy.

“We’re not going to turn off the fossil fuel switch or anything like that. We have to make a slow transition for sure. There’s going to be a need for fossil fuels, there’s going to be a need for oil-based products for sure,” said Yellowbird Stevens.

But he’s excited for what changes Haaland will bring.

“Pushing for issues that are going to benefit all of us, not just us on the reservation or Indian Country or our communities. She’s going to make decisions for all of us,” said Yellowbird Stevens. “I know she’ll protect our Great Lakes, you know, that’s about recreation, it’s about natural resource restoration, and preservation for future generations. There’s no other person that would take that role on as a mother, as a Native American mother, who has a connection to our communities and the next seven generations making those tough decisions for us.”

As a father of daughters, Yellowbird Stevens sees this historic confirmation as a ceiling broken.

“I think that really gives them the opportunity to see someone who looks like them that’s from where they’re from and to connect with them on a level that – you don’t really have to explain to Deb what it means to them,” said Yellowbird Stevens.

Learn more about Haaland’s confirmation HERE.

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