Indigenous Environmental Justice and A New Department of the Interior

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By: Tony Aguilar, Organizing Intern
In constructing his cabinet, President Biden appointed Deb Haaland, a Native American woman and former U.S. representative from New Mexico to be the Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior. The Department of the Interior manages America’s natural resources and Native American relations in Bureaus such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as well as the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Since Haaland’s confirmation, she has put together a diverse team in the DOI, including other Native American additions like Lawrence Roberts and Heidi Todacheene. Since the colonization of America, Indigenous voices have only been silenced, especially when it came to issues like land management. The appointment of Deb Halaand seems to be a step in the right direction in reversing the contentious history between the American Government and Indigenous communities. 
Before America’s colonization, Indigenous peoples practiced an engagement with nature that was full of reverence and respect for Earth’s natural resources. Many Indigenous cultures view our resources as entities themselves that we have familial relationships with, implying a sense of responsibility to take care of things like water and soil. This attitude toward the natural world is apparent in the way that Indegenous peoples built societies that sustained themselves for generations before Western colonization without depleting the Earth’s resources. Frequent relocation, industrialization, and other land rights infringements have not only kept Indigenous peoples from practicing the same level of sustainability of their ancestors, it has also disproportionately threatened or damaged many of the natural resources that surround or belong to Indigenous lands.  
The United States has yet to achieve a level of sustainability that Indigenous communities once had, but a restructuring of Native American affairs that Deb Haaland is committed to, may allow Indigenous communities the sovereignty and self-determination to keep pollution out of their communities and go back to the practices that built and sustained their communities for so many generations before them. These communities may then even serve as an example to the rest of America of what sustainability really means.
 As a 35th generation New Mexican and member of the Pueblo of Laguna (a Native American tribe in west-central New Mexico), Haaland has spent her career in politics fighting for environmental justice as well as many other Native American Issues. During her time in the House of Representatives, Haaland served as vice chair of the Committee on Natural Resources and also co-sponsored the Environmental Justice for All Act. As the Secretary of the Department of Interior, Haaland understands that Native American communities, along with communities of color more generally, take on most of the burden when it comes to environmental problems and has made it a point to ensure that these communities are being helped. Coming from such a community herself, Haaland serves as a beam of hope to all of the communities that suffer from environmental injustice, especially Native American communities that have not only lost their land, but also much of their culture to colonial industrialization. 
 
Photo credits: United States Department of the Interior

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