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'Native Americans Finally Have a Cabinet Nominee. Will an Adopted Tlingit Take Her Down?’

If confirmed, Haaland, a tribal citizen of the Laguna Pueblo, would become the first Native American Cabinet secretary in United States history.

WASHINGTON - Today, as Republicans dig in against Deb Haaland as Interior secretary, Julian Brave Noisecat, vice president of policy and strategy with Data for Progress, has a new piece out in Politico highlighting the choice faced by Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski between her party and a powerful constituency that's come to trust her. 

Key sections below:

Over the past two months, he [Joe William Jr, a Tinglit tribal elder] and thousands of others have been making phone calls, sending emails and writing letters telling their tribal leaders and congressional representatives to support the Democratic pick to oversee federal lands, natural resources and American Indian affairs. “I fully, 100 percent support her appointment,” Williams said of Haaland, despite the fact that she’s a progressive and he’s been voting Republican since the Reagan years. “And the reason for that is I don’t have to explain to her what it means to be an Indian.”

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For American Indians, the nomination of Haaland has a special symbolic power: A Native woman poised to lead a department once run by a man who declared its mission was to “civilize or exterminate” Native people. It strikes some as a rich irony that Republicans are now describing her as an existential threat to their way of life.

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When a Republican House member urged Biden to withdraw his nomination of Haaland, five tribes in the congressman’s district wrote him a letter saying: “This historic nomination is more important to us and all of Indian country than any other Cabinet nomination in recent history. … Your opposition to the first and only American Indian ever nominated to a Cabinet position is likely to reverberate across Indian country.”

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With Democrats out of contention in the state, Alaska Natives have little incentive to vote out a political ally. But for some, a betrayal of this significance could throw the very strength of her allyship into doubt. Native voters know too that with Murkowski already risking yet another right-wing primary, the senator has little incentive to offend them—many of whom are independent and can vote in either of the state’s party primaries, or sit out if they choose—since she likely needs their support to beat back such a challenge.

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