First Native American interior secretary has local indigenous leaders proud, expecting change

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NEW YORK — Not only is all of the tri-state region formerly Native American land, many of the skyscrapers for which New York City is renowned were built by Native American workers.

It’s why indigenous people across the country, including many in the New York metro area, are proud that the first ever Native American cabinet secretary has been confirmed.

Deb Haaland, by a vote of 51-40, was confirmed as the U.S. secretary of the interior on Monday by the U.S. Senate. Tuesday was her first full day in office.

The move makes her only the second native American to serve in the cabinet since Vice President Charles Curtis, who was voted out of office in 1933; he was a member of the cabinet because of his vice presidential status. Haaland is the first nominated and confirmed Native American cabinet secretary.

Curtis built his career on decreasing the influence of Native Americans and de-emphasizing their cultures. Haaland’s mission in life has been the opposite, as a Native American leader from our region pointed out.

Iakowi:he’ne’ Oakes is the executive director of the American Indian Community House in Manhattan and founder of the North American Indigenous Center for Culture, Equity, and Economic Development. She said that Haaland’s confirmation is an act of justice.

“I think it’s time that someone’s sitting at that table that understands what ‘land back’ means,” she said, “and also the treaties.”

She was referring to a Native American movement calling for land that was seized by colonists to be returned.

Exactly how Haaland will carry out federal policy is yet to be seen.  Still, she will be in charge of all 24 national parks, and more than 6,400 federally recognized sites, including more than 100 in New York City.

Oakes, the granddaughter of Mohawks who built New York City skyscrapers and fortified their own strong culture, said that Haaland’s new position is one in which all indigenous people can take pride and take part.

“I’m just hoping she can expand the land area for us,” Oakes said, “and move forward in our culture and traditions.”

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