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To: President Elect Joseph Biden

Choose an Indigenous head of the Department of the Interior

Publicly commit to choosing an indigenous person to head the Department of the Interior.

Why is this important?

The Department of the Interior (DOI) presides of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, a US government agency which states as its mission to,

“enhance the quality of life, to promote economic opportunity, and to carry out the responsibility to protect and improve the trust assets of American Indians, Indian tribes and Alaska Natives.”

This in itself is enough to make clear that the department of the interior would be well served with indigenous leadership but the argument doesn’t end there.

Several of the US National Parks and monuments presided over by the DOI focus on elements of Native American history or culture. These include the iconic such as Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado and Chaco Culture National Historic Park in New Mexico. There are also less well known Hopewell Culture National Historic Park in Ohio and Ocmulgee National Monument in Georgia and many more.

Other parks like Yosemite and Yellowstone were protected for different reasons but were used and or occupied by Native Americans historically. In many cases, part of this history is one of indigenous land rights being stolen while at the same time the land was ‘conserved’ for the pleasure of mainly white recreational users. Indigenous land and land that was historically indigenous is at the center of conservation in the United States and so it makes sense for that land to be managed under indigenous leadership.

Recent events and the global climate crisis make clear that indigenous people have more at stake when it comes to how public lands are managed than many other groups. The struggle against a pipeline by the Standing Rock Sioux and others as well as the opposition by many Gwich’in to drilling within Arctic National Wildlife Refuge makes clear the high stakes for indigenous people and their cultures. Native American reservations make up roughly 2% of the US land mass but may contain up to one fifth of the oil and gas reserves. Indigenous people are also disproportionately impacted by air and water pollution and are historically under represented in the US and local governments.

An NPR story recently pointed the the Navajo people as a major reason Arizona was won by President Elect Biden. Under the Obama administration there was real progress made by thee Department of the Interior in regards to Native Americans. Bears Ears National Monument was the first National Monument to be co-managed by Native Americans and the federal government. This was an achievement hailed by indigenous people and environmentalists and was a step in the right direction. Unfortunately the Trump administration has attacked this and other monuments, representing only a selfish fraction of those who have a stake in the land this monument stands on. It is my hope that the new administration will renew a commitment to indigenous peoples and the environment by choosing an indigenous person as the head of the Department of the Interior, a historic step towards justice and a healthy environment.