Feb 12, 2021 - Energy & Environment

Interior Department to meet with tribal leaders to reset relations

Protestors walk past an image of a Native American woman during a march to "Count Every Vote, Protect Every Person" on the day after the US Presidential Election in Seattle.
Protestors walk past an image of a Native American woman during a march to "Count Every Vote, Protect Every Person" on the day after the US Presidential Election in Seattle. Photo: Jason Redmond/AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. Department of Interior said Thursday it will host consultations with indigenous tribal leaders next month to discuss COVID-19, economic inequality, racial justice and climate change.

Why it matters: The move comes as the Biden administration seeks to reset the White House's relationship with tribal governments following years of tensions with former President Trump, who often made offensive remarks about Native Americans.

  • U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) a member of Laguna Pueblo, is awaiting confirmation to become Interior secretary. She'd be the first Native American to run the department.
  • Haaland's nomination faces opposition among some Republicans for Biden's moratorium on new oil and gas leasing on public lands, the Washington Post reported.

Details: Interior said it will notify all federally recognized tribes of the consultation series and will hold four meetings in March to hear leaders’ suggestions on federal policy and departmental actions.

  • Last month, Biden signed an executive order for “re-establishing federal respect for tribal sovereignty.”

Flashback: Trump praised figures such as Robert E. Lee and former President Jackson to the dismay of many Black and Native Americans.

  • Trump also regularly referred to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) as "Pocahontas" to make fun of her claim of Native American heritage. Some Native American women said Trump's use was a racist slur.

The big picture: Native American tribal governments seek help to fight COVID-19, which has affected reservations hard where there are housing shortages and lack of basic plumbing in some parts.

  • Some Indigenous activists also want the federal government to return seized land to tribes like Mount Rushmore, Black Hills and Bears Ears.
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