“They don’t know what it means to be Indian,” Williams said of those elected to his party. “An old Indian proverb would say: ‘walk a mile in your moccasins’. Then maybe they would come to that understanding.
Normally, voting against the nomination of a progressive environmentalist would be a no-brainer for an Alaskan Republican like Murkowski. His state runs more or less on petroleum, which in most years contributes up to 90 percent of Alaska’s Unrestricted General Fund. Only about 3 percent of Alaskans work in the oil and gas industry, but all residents who have lived in the state for one year and intend to stay receive an annual dividend based on the income of the ‘industry. In 2020, it was $ 992 in every Alaska’s pocket. The policies of the Biden administration are designed, in part, to move beyond this oil-centric status quo, and Haaland, who visited the camps erected on the way to the Dakota access pipeline in 2016 and prepared a green chili stew for the protesters, was an outspoken champion of them. If she wasn’t native, it would probably be an easy decision for Murkowski. But the senator’s personal connection and his electoral dependence on Indigenous voters make matters much more complicated.
And the American Indians take note of the fight. “Opposition to her appointment would send the message that we are not worthy of such a high office,” said Paulette Moreno, the grand president of the Alaska Native Sisterhood. “And this message is not to be shared with the world.”
Across the country, Haaland is loved by First Peoples. His appointment galvanized locals in hopes of representation, and it is not lost on these voters that the leaders of the Grand Old Party are lining up against them. The National Congress of American Indians wrote a letter to senators urging them to confirm Haaland and created a model so that tribal leaders across the country can do the same.
When a member of the Republican House urged Biden to withdraw his nomination from Haaland, five tribes in the congressman’s district wrote a letter to him saying, “This historic nomination is more important to us and to all of India than any other country. another Cabinet appointment in recent history. … Your opposition to the first and only Native American ever appointed to a Cabinet post will likely have repercussions throughout Indian country.
Gerald Gray, chairman of the Little Shell tribe of North Dakota, criticized Senate Republicans’ statements and said it was “time to put partisan politics aside, to stop calling every Democrat” radical “and make things happen on the inside.” In Daines, Montana, where, like Alaska, Indigenous voters make up a significant portion of the electorate, the Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council last week erected two billboards featuring Haaland’s image: one in Billings and another in Great Falls. “Deb Haaland’s confirmation gives hope to Indigenous communities and the United States to have a true steward of natural resources in this high-ranking position,” said Ronnie Jo Horse, executive director of Western Native Voice, a Indigenous voting rights group active in the state. “Native voters in Montana are watching,” added Deputy Tajin Perez. “Senator Daines has the opportunity to do what is right for all Montanais and all Americans.”
More and more indigenous people, like Williams’ old friend Ron Allen, president of the Jamestown S’Klallam tribe and former president of the National Congress of American Indians, who once served as an advisor to John’s presidential campaign. McCain, reconsiders their support for Republicans. “My parents, they would call me a token Republican Indian,” he said. “I would joke with them that I switched to ‘I’ for ‘Indian’.” Perhaps it is a sign of the times. The Native American Caucus in Congress is made up of six members: three Democrats, three Republicans. And Indigenous voters are less likely than voters of other races to identify with either party. But, as Republicans move against Haaland and Indian Country, that partisan balance can slip into the past, as Indigenous voters increasingly align themselves with the Democratic Party and tribal leaders find their conservative friends to Washington is not that friendly when it counts.
So far, the Tlingit and Alaskan natives I spoke to aren’t too worried about Murkowski. She’s a senator, maverick, and aunt because of them, after all. Since voting to condemn Trump, she has faced threats of censorship from Republicans in her home state, and former Governor Sarah Palin would consider a major challenge.
With all of that in mind, the Tlingit and Indigenous insiders I interviewed expect Murkowski to ask Haaland tough questions about energy policy, but ultimately to honor Biden’s choice for the interior. “I believe she is a woman of integrity and righteousness and will balance the weight of the message of Sister Haaland’s potential appointment,” said Moreno. Still, they’re taking no chances, writing and calling Murkowski’s office to express how meaningful this vote is to them.