On Rep. Deb Haaland and a nomination that is so much more: an open letter to the U.S. Senate

Dear Senators,

For four long years Democrats, Independents and some Republicans have waited for a new administration to restore decency, professionalism and ethics to the White House. Our wait is finally over and President Biden has nominated a diverse and well qualified slate of nominees for his Cabinet — nominees that reflect the multi-culturalism of our changing nation.

So I’m troubled, Senators, that some of you might withhold support from Biden’s nominees. Any decision to block well qualified candidates flies in the face of national calls for unity and are especially unsettling as concerns the President’s nomination for Secretary of the Interior: Representative Deb Haaland.

Senators, we are at a defining moment in our nation’s history, a turning point encompassing both our land and our people: Will we finally learn to embrace our Earth as more than just a commodity? And will we finally and fully abandon the policies and deeply rooted racism that has too long prevented us from moving toward an inclusive and equitable future.

Representative Haaland’s nomination is emblematic of this turning point.

I don’t think it is hyperbolic to say that America cannot go on as it has in the past. The years of denial over the undisputed science of climate change has placed our nation in a deficit position when it comes to the pivot towards Green energy. The many senators keen on attempting to extract promises from Haaland on future drilling on public land willfully ignore this reality. We as a nation have to be bold and innovative as we find ways to move away from our dependence on oil and towards renewable energy sources. Jobs versus the environment has always been a false argument — and never more than now. No one — no Democrats, Independents or Republicans — wants to leave Americans jobless as these inevitable economic changes occur.

America also cannot go on without an equally bold commitment to addressing its cruelty and injustice towards Indigenous peoples — and indeed, all people of color. With Haaland’s nomination the U.S. Senate has a long overdue opportunity to to begin to redress our nation’s history of violent discrimination while also bringing Native wisdom to the center of our land and resource management. Stewardship of our land and waters is one of the spiritual centerpieces of Native life, and we as a nation would have much to gain from Haaland’s leadership.

I am not suggesting that you vote in support of Rep. Haaland’s nomination as a symbolic act of reconciliation; as vice chair of the Congressional Committee on Natural Resources, Haaland is well qualified to become the Secretary of the Interior. Instead I am asking that you challenge yourselves to adopt a broader, longer, lens: one that sees beyond current energy technologies and towards a time when America can become a global leader in the creation and production of the energies of the future. And one that acknowledges the heavy weight of our ruthless past, a weight that will always deter us from the shared goal of creating a more perfect union.

Senators, I’m asking a lot of you, but if you are strong and visionary enough to accept the challenge I can assure you, you won’t take it on alone. For five years I’ve contracted for and been deeply involved in projects initiated by Native-led organizations. As a white person I had a lot to learn about Indigenous ways and practices, and the dark history of our government’s treatment of Native peoples. Incredibly, despite this brutal past, the Native people I worked with and for were generous with their knowledge and welcoming to anyone who showed up “in a good way”: with honesty, commitment and compassion.

I ask you, Senators, to show up in this good way. To be leaders in blazing the difficult but righteous path towards a more just and sustainable future. If you have the vision and courage to vote for her nomination, Representative Deb Haaland will be a wise, fair, and invaluable partner in this work.

Camille J. Gage is a Minneapolis based artist and writer.

Please note: This article was revised after Sen. Joe Manchin publicly announced his support for Rep. Haaland’s nomination.

Camille J Gage

Camille J. Gage is a Minneapolis based artist and writer.