Debra Haaland

Address to Alaska Federation of Natives - Dec. 14, 2021

Debra Haaland
December 14, 2021— Virtual Event
Alaska Federation of Natives Annual Convention 2021
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[1:25] And thank you so much, Joe, thank for that kind introduction and for the work you continue to do improve the lives of Alaskan native people.

[Speaks in Native Language] – Greetings leaders, colleagues, members of congress, and friends - I’m honored to join you all for the Alaska Federation of Natives annual convention. I want to thank the Alaska Federation of Natives for the invitation to share an update from the Department of the Interior and especially for their partnership as we work to ensure the federal government is living up to its promises to indigenous people. For everyone joining, whether it’s by listening to the radio, watching on Facebook, or online, I want to thank you for your commitment to this time-honored tradition. The theme of this year’s convention, marking the 50th anniversary of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act passage, is really important. ANCSA was a historic milestone upon which Alaskan natives can continue to build and improve their economies and their sustainably.

Not only should we recognize the historic nature of the settlement and the economic benefits and opportunities it has brought but we should also acknowledge the power that indigenous peoples can wield to effect change on their own terms when they come together as one. As we move forward in service to that goal, we do so with the support and commitment of President Biden and the entire Biden-Harris administration. Each cabinetry is committed to meeting full tribal consultation, fulfilling our trust responsibilities, and strengthening our nation-to-nation relationships across all areas of the federal government.

As someone whose story is not unlike many of yours, I know how much this means to indigenous communities. I grew up in a military family. I learned what it meant to be a pueblo woman from my grandparents, my mother, and my pueblo sisters in our community. I worked hard in school, I struggled, I raised a loving child. I embraced my identity as a descendant of boarding school survivors and as someone who’s been on the receiving end of federal Indian policy my entire life. It’s because our ancestors were always thinking about empowering the future, that we’re still here and we have a voice in spite of seemingly insurmountable odds – and now we have historic opportunities to lend our voices to decisions that impact our families and our communities through the administration’s all of government approach to consultation, in which indigenous peoples are consulted before policies are developed instead of after they’ve been determined. In the first few months of the administration, we worked with tribes to distribute historic investments in tribal communities through the American Rescue Plan; unleash one billion dollars in grants to increase access to broadband internet on tribal lands; we worked with tribes to administer COVD-19 vaccines to protect our families, and especially our elders who carry irreplaceable knowledge.

I want to thank AFN for promoting community driven strategies to administer testing, vaccinations, and approaches to address chronic health conditions that increase the risk of contracting COVID-19. I know that we’ve already come a long way in the last 18 months, but we cannot let our guard down. Getting the COVID-19 booster shot is the best way to ensure we can all continue to be protected against new variants of the virus and to empower our future.

This convention comes on the heels of a productive White House Tribal Nations summit. It was a week full of intensive work and important conversations. It was insightful to hear Alaska native and other indigenous leaders discuss public safety and justice, climate change, and language revitalization. The discussions and feedback we received during the summit will ensure that the policies we create reflect the needs of indigenous peoples. The summit reinforced that tribes have a real seat at the table to inform the administration’s policies. I’m proud to say that [the] interior is driving ahead with the same approach, ensuring that we have indigenous leaders reflected in our leadership. And we have incredible experts right here at the department, including Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, Bryan Newland, Senior Advisor for Alaska Affairs, Raina Thiele, who is the first Alaskan native to hold this role, Solicitor Bob Anderson, and now, to guide the work of the national park’s service, director Chuck Sams, the first tribally enrolled leader the service has ever had. Together we’re working to ensure that we’re grounding decisions in our shared heritage and are always mindful that tribal leaders know best how to help their people.

I know how important Alaskan Native’s subsistence rights are to you all. It’s one of our priorities to ensure that the right to hunt, fish, and gather is upheld for future generations of Alaska Natives. ANCSA’s failure to provide for subsistence use, this was a shortcoming that I see is on the agenda to discuss as part of this meeting. I want you to know that the department is committed to working with you to address this issue. With a goal, we recently teamed up with the Department of Agriculture to host tribal and ANC consultations on Alaska Native subsistence policy – that will begin in January 2022. We want to hear you voices and priorities and we hope you’ll join us for those important sessions.

We’re also continuing to ensure Vietnam era veterans have access to the lands they are owed by expediting the review of veterans’ applications made through the Alaska Native Vietnam Era Veterans Land Allotment Program. That work is deeply personal to me, as someone who grew up in the Vietnam era, and whose dad served two consecutive tours during the time I was a child. Through this action, we’ll ensure that those veterans have access to the healing and traditional life ways that the land provides.

As we look ahead to the future, we’re facilitating the distribution of billions of dollars to native communities thanks to the newly signed, bipartisan infrastructure law. This funding will help support Alaskan native villages that are literally being washed away by coastal erosion and experiencing changes to their life ways because of a change in climate. They must have resources to care for their people. The bipartisan infrastructure law includes an additional 2 billion dollars to increase access to broadband internet throughout Indian Country; 466 million dollars for the Bureau of Indian Affairs to invest in infrastructure projects and climate resiliency initiatives; 250 million dollars for construction, repair, improvement, and maintenance of irrigation and power systems, safety of dams, water, sanitation, and other facilities; and 216 million dollars for tribal climate resilience, adaptation, and community relocation, planning, design, and implementation of projects which address the varied climate challenges facing tribal communities across the country. This funding and these efforts will be transformational in our communities, but investing in indigenous peoples will not alone solve all the challenges we face.

As you know, I don’t shy away from the difficult issues that face native communities. Many of the disparities that exist for our people stem from a history of marginalization and oppression. I fully believe that by recognizing those dark pages in our history books, we can heal and create a future we can all be proud to embrace. That’s why we are putting the power of the federal government behind the work, to address the missing and murdered people's crisis and establishing The Not Invisible Act Commission – which will include representatives from Alaska Native communities. In addition, as you know, we are undertaking the federal Indian Boarding School Initiative, to heal from the terrible impacts that Indian boarding schools have had on our communities.

[The] interior is centering indigenous voices in all of our work. We are strong, we are still here. We have traditional knowledge and contributions to make to this country. We will be consulting on important policy topics in the months to come, and I invite and encourage your active participation to ensure that Alaska Natives have the chance to inform and engage. I see it as my job to uplift your voices, make sure that your communities have a seat at the decision-making table, and empower future generations to continue the great work we all set out to do for our communities.

Though I visited last year before becoming secretary of the interior, I’ve so looked forward to coming back in the coming year to see, up close, the things you have discussed with me over the past year, virtually. I cannot overstate how much I’m looking forward to learning more about your traditions, smelling the air, witnessing the wildlife, eating some delicious salmon, and truly experiencing the incredible place you call home. I want to thank AFN for all the work that you do, and for the opportunity to share some of the incredible work that the Biden-Harris administration is implementing right now. It’s my hope that the work done during this convention will help drive and inspire our effort to empower your future. Place know that my door is always open, and enjoy the rest of your winter meeting. Thank you – [Speaks in native language].

Haaland, D. [Indianz]. (2021, December 14) Secretary Deb Haaland - Alaska Federation of Natives []. Retrieved on January 12, 2022 from