WASHINGTON — When President Biden introduced Representative Deb Haaland of New Mexico as his pick for interior secretary, making her the first Native American to be selected for a cabinet position, he acknowledged the country’s long history of failing the land’s first citizens.
“The federal government has long broken promises to Native American tribes who have been on this land since time immemorial,” he said. “With her appointment, Congresswoman Haaland will help me strengthen the nation-to-nation relationship.”
But with Mr. Biden’s election and Ms. Haaland’s nomination, tribal communities are looking for more than vague pledges.
Angry over their treatment during the Trump administration, which oversaw a deeply flawed response to the pandemic on tribal lands and pursued other policies at odds with Native American priorities, they are now hopeful that Mr. Biden, who benefited from their enthusiastic support in battleground states like Arizona last year, will back a far-reaching agenda to address the poverty that has long ravaged their communities.
They are pushing to ensure that any infrastructure plan the Biden administration pursues includes substantial money to improve access to water and electricity and to improve roads and bridges. They want more funding for their woeful health care service. They want changes to federal land use policy to minimize environmental damage from energy projects. And they want a renewed commitment to improving their schools.
In more than a dozen interviews with tribal leaders, health officials and lawyers across the country, many expressed cautious optimism that the Biden administration would follow through on efforts to address 150 years of systematic failures and breaches of treaty agreements.
“The Trump administration left us out in the cold when it came to the pandemic — all the federal aid that came as a result of the stimulus act, and other acts, throughout this year were meant to try to help entities deal with the pandemic, but we were left out in the cold,” said Tim Davis, the chairman of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation of Montana.
“There is so much we are going to have to do, and we are hoping we will get that opportunity with the new administration,” he added.