Deb Haaland 'ready to fight' as first Native American woman in halls of Congress

Pueblo woman stands up to President Trump's 'uninformed' agenda

'Congress has never heard a voice like mine'
By Kevin Abourezk

A Pueblo citizen who could become the nation’s first Native American woman to serve in Congress says she is ready to fight back against what she considers an unparalleled assault on liberal values, tribal people and public lands by President Donald Trump.

When Trump used a White House ceremony last month for Navajo Code Talkers as an opportunity to attack a Democratic senator, Debra Haaland slammed him for diverting attention from the little-known group of World War II veterans who were critical in turning the tide of battle in the Pacific.

Haaland, whose father was a 30-year career Marine and Vietnam veteran, called on Trump to “stop disrespecting Native Americans.”

When Trump decided to drastically cut the size of Bears Ears National Monument in Utah – a region with many sites considered sacred to tribes – Haaland again spoke up.

“He’s the most uninformed president on Indian issues in my lifetime,” she said. “I’m ready to fight.”

Haaland, a citizen of the Pueblo of Laguna, is seeking New Mexico’s District 1 Congressional seat, a post being vacated next year by incumbent Michelle Lujan Grisham. Grisham is running for governor.

The 1st district skews heavily Democratic with Democrats making up 47 percent of the population and Republicans 32 percent, according to the U.S. Census. In addition, Republicans haven’t won the seat since a narrow win in 2006 by Heather Wilson. Still, the National Republican Congressional Committee has said it will target the district next year.

Just one Republican candidate, former state Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones, has entered the race, though Haaland will face at least eight Democratic opponents during the June 5, 2018, primary election. They include a mayor, city councilman, former U.S. attorney, law professor and nonprofit director.

Haaland, however, is among the top three fundraisers in the District 1 race so far.

“We’re doing great,” she said. “We feel really super good about the race.”

Deb Haaland at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on July 26, 2016.
Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

As former chairwoman of her state’s Democratic Party from mid-2015 until earlier this year, Haaland helped Democrats reclaim control of the state House of Representatives and ensure Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton defeated Trump in New Mexico during the last election cycle. She said her experience makes her the only candidate for the District 1 seat who has overseen a statewide campaign.

“That was all under my leadership,” she said.

A law school graduate, Haaland ran for lieutenant governor in 2014 and served as the New Mexico Democratic Party’s Native American caucus chair from 2012 to 2013 and as the Democratic National Committee’s Native American vote director in her state in 2012.

She was a full-time volunteer for Obama’s 2008 campaign and has volunteered for dozens of local and statewide Democratic campaigns.

Last year, she traveled to Standing Rock to show solidarity with water protectors there and later led an effort to divest her state’s Democratic Party from Wells Fargo due to the bank’s investments in the Dakota Access Pipeline.

She said, if elected, she would continue to make Native American issues a priority, though she believes those issues shouldn’t be considered partisan in nature.

“It shouldn’t be a Democratic issue or a Republican issue,” she said.

She said Democrats have a lot of work to do to oppose Trump’s policies, including fighting efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act and ensuring the Children’s Health Insurance Program is funded.

Democrats also will have to fight federal actions that could hurt the environment, Haaland said.

“Anybody who’s denying climate change is really in the dark,” she said.

A post shared by Deb Haaland (@deb4congressnm) on

Deb Haaland for Congress on Instagram: 'I celebrate my fellow water protectors'

Earlier this month, President Trump announced plans to whittle down the Bears Ears National Monument in southeastern Utah from its current 1.35 million acres to 228,784 acres. Former president Barack Obama had designated Bears Ears as a national monument.

The Hopi Tribe, Navajo Nation, Ute Tribe, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe and Zuni Tribe filed a lawsuit in federal court, calling Trump's proclamation illegal.

Haaland criticized the president’s decision, saying it will endanger many sacred sites within the monument’s borders. She said tribes did not get to establish their boundaries and often must now gain federal support in order to protect their sacred sites and ensure they maintain access to those sites.

“If that land falls into private hands, it’s going to be devastating to Native people,” she said.

She said Trump’s decision on Bears Ears was just the latest assault in a campaign to open up public lands important to Native Americans. She said his administration also plans to hold a land auction in March for land just outside New Mexico’s Chaco Canyon, one of the most culturally significant sites to Native Americans.

The region contains kivas, ancient roads and sacred sites built hundreds of years ago by indigenous peoples.

Tribes fear the Trump administration will allow drilling, including fracking, on the land. Federal officials, who had agreed to consult with affected tribes, moved forward with energy leases in the area without finishing the process.

“That’s just unacceptable,” Haaland said. “That’s our ancestral homeland."

“At some point, the U.S. government just has to stop and have respect for Indian Country,” she said.

She said she hopes her campaign will inspire Native Americans girls and women to seek public office.

“These things are not just reserved for the boys,” she said. “Native girls can have a voice and speak up.”

Jaelien Salazar, the 2017-18 Miss To’Hajiilee, with Deb Haaland, a Democratic candidate for New Mexico's 1st Congressional District.
Photo courtesy Jaelien Salazar

Jaelien Salazar, a young citizen of the Navajo Nation, said she met Haaland in April when the candidate came to speak at her coronation as the 2017-18 Miss To’Hajiilee. Haaland had donated a sash to Salazar to wear during her reign.

Later, Salazar attended a “Native Women for Deb” event and again heard her speak. Haaland’s speech about raising children as a single mother while finishing her education resonated with Salazar, who was raised by a single mother.

“After learning more about her, I feel proud that I carry her generosity and strength through my sash,” Salazar told Indianz.Com. “When I see my sash and when I put it on, I’m reminded that there are good people out there like Deb who want to make the world a better place. I’m starting with my family and my community.’

Haaand said Native American women bring a perspective about local, state and national issues that other women and men don’t understand.

“Congress has never heard a voice like mine,” she said. “That’s what I bring to the table: my voice as a Native woman.

“I definitely don’t intend to be silent.”

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