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Tribal leaders hope Haaland visit leads to closer relationship with Biden administration

Department of Interior Secretary Deb Haaland visits the Lakota Nation Invitational Art Show.
Lakota Nation Invitational Facebook
Department of Interior Secretary Deb Haaland poses with Bryan Brewer of the Lakota Nation Invitational this week in Rapid City.

U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland signaled her commitment to Indian Country with a Friday meeting in Rapid City involving leaders from 12 Great Plains tribes.

The meeting coincided with the Lakota Nation Invitational and took place at the Interior Department’s Office of Special Trustee of American Indians.

Afterward, tribal leaders said they addressed their needs and issues as sovereign nations and established an avenue of dialogue with the Interior Department and the Biden administration.

Haaland made no public comment about the meeting, but Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Chairman Harold Frazier said he was satisfied with the dialogue.

“My main issue is just a message to them that we can't forget the day-to-day lives of our people on the reservations,” Frazier said. “How are we going to address the poverty? How are we going to address the poor health care and just the bad infrastructure and things like that?”

Oglala Sioux Tribe President Kevin Killer said the meeting was a strong sign from the administration that it wants to develop better relations with Indian Country.

“I think the secretary kind of made that clear that it was important that she do that in her role and that she wants to kind of continue helping us in different capacities,” Killer said.

Haaland is a member of New Mexico’s Laguna Pueblo. She made history as the first Native American cabinet secretary.

Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairwoman Janet Alkire also made history by becoming the first woman in 50 years to be elected as chairwoman of her tribe. She said Haaland is the kind of person that Indian Country needs.

“It's very historic for us as native people to have Secretary Deb Haaland be there and be that voice and be the role model that we need."
Janet Alkire, chairwoman, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe

“It's very historic for us as native people to have Secretary Deb Haaland be there and be that voice and be the role model that we need,” said Alkire, “and me being a Lakota winyan (woman), you know how proud I am to see another historic moment to have a woman sitting at the cabinet level and her being a Native woman.”

One major topic of discussion was ownership of the Black Hills, which are a sacred area in the traditions of many tribes. Much of the land in the Black Hills is part of the Black Hills National Forest, owned and managed by the federal government.

“Some of the chairmen asked for the return of the Black Hills,” Frazier said. “I believe that they should be returned back to the Native people.”

Killer conveyed the same message.

“That’s something that we’re always sure gets reiterated,” he said. “We want to make sure that it gets up to the president, and I think the secretary is committed to carrying that message up there.”

The meeting was organized by the Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Association. Tribal leaders hope a follow-up meeting in Washington will be scheduled for next month.

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