Energy & Environment

Haaland, Native American leaders press for Indigenous land protections

Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland speaks at the Red Road to D.C. Totem Pole Journey in front of the Capitol
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Interior Secretary Deb Haaland joined other Native American leaders and activists at the National Mall on Thursday to accept the delivery of a totem pole transported across the country as part of a push to protect sites that are sacred to Native Americans.

The event was the final stop in the “Red Road to DC,” a two-week tour from Washington state to Washington, D.C., with visits to sacred locations throughout the U.S. Speaking at the event Thursday, Haaland called for greater inclusion of Native American voices in lawmaking in order to protect the sites.

“The fact that we are all here is not insignificant. When our nation’s capital was established, its policies were intended to exclude us, to assimilate us. Laws and policies were written without considering Indigenous communities’ challenges or their strengths, and we are working hard to undo so many consequences of these actions,” said Halaand, who is the nation’s first Native American Cabinet secretary.

Advocates warn that a number of sacred locations across the U.S. are threatened by government actions, which they say violate prior peace treaties. Among these locations is the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah. Former President Trump slashed the size of Bears Ears, which the Biden administration has pushed to reverse.

The Snake River in Idaho, another site on the tour, has seen a decline in its salmon population due to dams in the river that native people have long claimed violate their fishing rights.

Timothy Davis, chairman of the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council, told The Hill that the protection of this and other sacred lands was an immediate concern of many Indigenous people.

“Without having protection, [the sacred sites are] desecrated, destroyed, consumed and gone. Our children won’t have that place to pray, they won’t have that place to picnic, to camp, to gather roots, berries and hunt. That’s why we have to protect the sacredness of that place because that’s what God blessed us with.”

Director of the Native Organizers Alliance Judith LeBlanc said the event and cross-country tour underscores the “political grassroots power” pressing for greater Indigenous protections. She also argued that listening to Native Americans is an important first step in making reparations to sacred land across the country.

“The one common denominator is that the federal government has the power to sit down with us at a table and talk out what the solution is,” she said. “That’s the common denominator, the federal government recognizing tribal nations as equal inhibitors and co-managers of the land.”

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