TUES: Haaland Vows 'Balance,' Indian Country Reflects On Her Impact Ahead Of Today's Hearing, + More

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Interior Nominee Haaland Vows 'Balance' On Energy, Climate - By Matthew Daly Associated Press

President Joe Biden's nominee to head the Interior Department says oil and natural gas will continue to play a major role in America for years to come.

But New Mexico Rep. Deb Haaland, Biden's nominee to be interior secretary, says the United States also must address climate change and recognize that the energy industry is changing.

In testimony prepared for her confirmation hearing Tuesday, she said the Interior Department has a role in "harnessing the clean energy potential of our public lands to create jobs" while restoring and conserving federal lands.

Biden's agenda, including the possible creation of a Civilian Climate Corps, “demonstrates that America’s public lands can and should be engines for clean energy production" and “has the potential to spur job creation,'' Haaland said in testimony prepared for her confirmation hearing Tuesday.

Haaland's remarks are intended to rebut criticism from some Republicans who have complained that her opposition to drilling on federal lands will cost thousands of jobs and harm economies throughout the West.

If confirmed, Haaland would be the first Native American to lead a Cabinet agency. The Laguna Pueblo member and two-term congresswoman often draws on her experience as a single mother and the teachings of her ancestors as a reminder that action the U.S. takes on climate change, the environment and sacred sites will affect generations to come.

Native Americans see Haaland's nomination as the best chance to move from consultation on tribal issues to consent and to put more land into the hands of tribal nations either outright or through stewardship agreements. The Interior Department has broad oversight of tribal affairs and energy development.

"The historic nature of my confirmation is not lost on me, but I will say that it is not about me,'' Haaland said in her prepared testimony. "Rather, I hope this nomination would be an inspiration for Americans — moving forward together as one nation and creating opportunities for all of us.''

As the daughter of a Pueblo woman, Haaland says she learned early to value hard work. Her mother is a Navy veteran and worked for a quarter-century at the Bureau of Indian Education, an Interior Department agency. Her father was a career Marine who served in Vietnam. He received the Silver Star and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

"As a military family, we moved every few years when I was a kid, but no matter where we lived, my dad taught me and my siblings to appreciate nature, whether on a mountain trail or walking along the beach,'' Haaland said.

The future congresswoman spent summers with her grandparents in Mesita, a Laguna Pueblo village. "It was in the cornfields with my grandfather where I learned the importance of water and protecting our resources and where I gained a deep respect for the Earth,'' she said.

Haaland pledged to lead the Interior Department with honor and integrity and said she will be "a fierce advocate for our public lands."

She promised to listen to and work with members of Congress on both sides of the aisle and ensure that the Interior Department's decisions are based on science. She also vowed to "honor the sovereignty of tribal nations and recognize their part in America's story.''

She said she fully understands the role the Interior Department must play in Biden's "build back better" plan for infrastructure and clean energy and said she will seek to protect natural resources for future generations "so that we can continue to work, live, hunt, fish, and pray among them.''

Haaland's nomination has stirred strong opposition from some Republicans who say "radical ideas" don't fit in with a rural way of life, particularly in the West. They cite her support for the sprawling Green New Deal and Biden's recent moratorium on oil and gas drilling on federal lands — which doesn't apply to tribal lands — and her opposition to fracking and the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

"I have serious concerns with Rep Haaland's radical views and support for the Green New Deal," Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., tweeted after a meeting with Haaland. "Unless my concerns are addressed, I will not only oppose her confirmation for Interior, I will do all I can to defeat it."

Daines is a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which will consider Haaland's nomination at a hearing Tuesday. The panel's chair, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., has not said how he will vote on Haaland's nomination, which Democrats generally support. Manchin, a moderate, said he plans to oppose Biden's choice for budget director, Neera Tanden, a crucial defection that could sink her nomination in the evenly divided Senate.

National civil rights groups have joined forces with tribal leaders and environmental groups in supporting Haaland.

A joint statement by the NAACP, UnidosUS and Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum praised her nomination as "historic" and called Haaland "a proven civil rights/racial justice advocate."

A letter signed by nearly 500 national and regional organizations representing Native Americans, environmental justice groups, outdoor businesses and others urged senators to confirm Haaland.

"Rep. Haaland is a proven leader and the right person to lead the charge against the existential threats of our time – tackling the climate, biodiversity, extinction and COVID-19 crises, and racial justice inequities on our federal public lands and waters,'' the groups said.

Deb Haaland Hearing Is Indian Country's Obama Moment - By Felicia Fonseca Associated Press

For Native Americans, Deb Haaland is more than an elected official on track to become the first Indigenous secretary of the Interior Department. She is a sister, an auntie and a fierce pueblo woman whose political stances have been molded by her upbringing.

News of her historic nomination electrified Indian Country. Tribal leaders and organizations for weeks have urged people to write and call U.S. senators who will decide if she'll lead the agency that has broad oversight over Native American affairs and energy development.

On Tuesday, Haaland's confirmation hearing will be closely watched in tribal communities across the U.S., with virtual parties amid a pandemic. A day before, a picture of the New Mexico congresswoman was projected on the side of the Interior building with text that read "Our Ancestors' Dreams Come True."

Many Native Americans see Haaland as a reflection of themselves, someone who will elevate their voices and protect the environment and tribes' rights. Here are stories of her impact: 


Aleta 'Tweety' Suazo, 66, Laguna And Acoma Pueblos In New Mexico

Suazo first met Haaland when they were campaigning for Barack Obama, walking door to door in New Mexico's pueblos.

When Haaland herself was chosen to represent New Mexico as one of the first two Native American women ever elected to Congress, she turned to Suazo and the state's Native American Democratic Caucus to make treats to hand out for a reception.

They made hundreds of pueblo pies, or pastelitos, and cookies, froze them and took them to Washington, D.C. Wearing traditional black dresses, they handed out the goodies with a thank-you note from Haaland.

Suazo said she admired Haaland because she is eloquent and smart, "no beating around the bush," and she is a member of Laguna Pueblo who has returned there to dance as a form of prayer. 

When she heard Haaland was nominated as Interior secretary shortly after winning a second term in Congress, Suazo wasn't overjoyed. 

"Oh my gosh, she is going to go there, and who is going to represent us?" said Suazo, who lives in Rio Rancho, New Mexico. "Who is going to represent New Mexico? There goes our one and only Indian representative."

She wanted to be assured that Haaland would be replaced by someone just as dynamic, who would work hard to protect the environment, address an epidemic of missing and slain Indigenous women and expand broadband, she said. 

"I was happy, but I was afraid. I didn't want to lose her," Suazo said.

But she sees the significance and importance, she said, in having a Native American oversee an agency that touches nearly every aspect of Native American life. Suazo said she'll be watching, ready to yell at the screen if anyone questions Haaland's qualifications. 

And to Haaland, she sends the message: Gumeh, or be a strong woman.


Debbie Nez-Manuel, 49, Navajo Nation In Arizona, New Mexico And Utah

During her recent campaign for an Arizona legislative seat, Nez-Manuel sought an endorsement from Haaland. She was looking for someone whose values aligned with hers: grounded in beliefs, connected to the land, a consistent and strong leader unchanged by politics.

After layers of vetting, she got the endorsement and planned to announce it at a get-out-the-vote rally at the Gila River Indian Community in Arizona, featuring Haaland. It also was a chance for the two women to take a picture together. 

Then, the event was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic. Nez-Manuel was devastated.

Days before she was supposed to meet Haaland, Nez-Manuel was sitting at home when her phone rang. She didn't recognize the number but answered anyway.

"Hey Debbie, this is Deb," the voice on the phone said.

"Who?" Nez-Manuel asked.

The caller replied: "Deb Haaland. Good morning. I'm calling from New Mexico. I'm sitting in my kitchen."

Nez-Manuel's heart was racing, and she struggled to put all her thoughts she had so carefully scripted for that meeting into words. Haaland, she said, was patient and shared stories about life on and off a reservation — something that resonated with Nez-Manuel — and reaffirmed that Haaland hasn't forgotten her roots. 

"It's like talking to an auntie," she said. "She's very matter of fact."

Nez-Manuel joked about getting a plane ticket to watch Haaland's confirmation hearing in person to get that elusive picture. 

Instead, she and her husband, Royce, will be watching from home on the Salt-River Pima Maricopa Community northeast of Phoenix. 

They've encouraged their children's teachers to incorporate the hearing into lesson plans and tribes to help answer questions about the process. 

New Mexico's Indigenous Education Advocate Faces Tough Job - By Cedar Attanasio AP/Report For America

New Mexico's Indigenous communities are depending on Lashawna Tso. As the assistant secretary for Indian Education, she's the top tribal liaison for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's administration. 

It's her job to advocate on behalf of New Mexico's 23 tribal governments as they look to repair damage from the coronavirus pandemic. 

Native American children make up 10% of the state's K-12 population. 

When the coronavirus pandemic hit, Tso's position was vacant.

There was no top state official to direct Indigenous education policy and New Mexico's tribal leaders were left frustrated at a critical time. 

While many students have struggled with remote learning, Native American students have been disproportionately unable to access remote classes for lack of computers and decent internet connections.

Native leaders hope having one of their own high up in state government will help. 

Since taking over in October, she has participated in a flurry of virtual meetings with other state education officials and tribal leaders. Tso was among the panelists at a recent town hall on ethnic studies. There also have been legislative committee meetings and discussions with state lawmakers about funding proposals to bring more equity to New Mexico's education system.

Tso says accountability in aiding Native students will be key to recovery this year.

Draft State Budget Would Boost Salaries, School Spending - By Morgan Lee, Associated Press

New Mexico's state government is likely to deliver a jolt of one-time spending amid the pandemic and provide sustained funding increases on health care and public education under a newly drafted budget bill.

The lead House budget committee on Monday unanimously endorsed the spending plan for the coming fiscal year that increases general fund spending by $332 million for the fiscal year that starts July 1. That represents a 4.6% increase over current fiscal year spending.

Total general fund spending would increase to $7.39 billion under the plan that includes a 1.5% raise for employees throughout state government, K-12 schools and public colleges and universities. Larger raises are slated for prison guards.

Legislative budget analyst Bill Valdes said a decrease in the state inmate population is making more money available for prison-guard raises and programs to address recidivism and substance abuse.

A vote on the draft budget plan by the full House of Representatives is scheduled this week before the proposal moves to the Senate for possible amendments and approval.

Public schools in New Mexico rely on the state for most is their funding, and the draft budget would increase K-12 spending by 5.5% to $3.39 billion — a $175 million increase.

Visitation Restrictions Eased At Some New Mexico Hospitals - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

Citing downward trends in new COVID-19 cases, top administrators with some of the largest health care networks in New Mexico said Monday that visitation restrictions at some hospitals were being eased for non-coronavirus patients.

The officials said during an online briefing that the changes include longer visiting hours and in some cases, more than one person will be allowed in.

Still, they noted that while the daily case totals have been declining, the seven-day rolling average of infections in New Mexico remains higher now that it was last spring and summer. They urged people to continue wearing masks and to keep their distance from others.

Chief quality and safety officer at University of New Mexico Hospital Dr. Rohini McKee said two factors need to be kept in mind: current vaccination rates and emerging variants. She said it could be the summer before more groups of people are vaccinated under the state's phased plan and there's still not enough information on how the new variants will affect transmission rates.

The hospitals also are continuing with vaccination efforts but said the focus has been on getting people their second shots per guidance from the state Health Department. The agency did not immediately answer questions about how long that would be the case.

Top health officials have said in recent weeks that demand continues to outpace supply despite an uptick in the allotment from the federal government.

As of Monday, data from the Health Department shows over a half-million shots have been administered in New Mexico, with about 34% of those being second shots.

More than 642,200 New Mexicans — 30% of the population — have registered online with the Health Department to receive a vaccination.

Health officials on Monday also reported 237 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases, bringing the statewide total to 183,023 since the pandemic began. More than 3,635 New Mexicans have died from the virus.

Navajo Nation Reports 15 New COVID-19 Cases, 1 More Death - Associated Press

Navajo Nation health officials on Monday reported 15 new confirmed COVID-19 cases with one additional death. 

The latest numbers bring the total number of cases on the vast reservation that covers parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah to 29,551 since the pandemic began. 

There have been 1,145 reported deaths that were related to COVID-19. Also on Monday, the Navajo Department of Health identified 21 communities with uncontrolled spread of COVID-19 from Feb. 5-18. 

That's an increase from last week's 15 communities, but down from 75 communities with uncontrolled coronavirus spread last month.

Tribal President Jonathan Nez said even those who have been fully vaccinated need to continue taking precautions to avoid spreading COVID-19. 

The tribe has a nightly curfew in place from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. to limit the spread of the virus. 

Tribal health officials said nearly 16,000 people have recovered from COVID-19 on the reservation and more than 242,000 tests have been administered.

Albuquerque Asks State To Split Hybrid Learning, Activities – KRQE, Associated Press

New Mexico's largest school district has asked the state to separate athletics and other extracurricular activities from the hybrid learning structure being used because of the coronavirus pandemic.

KRQE-TV reports Albuquerque Public Schools Board of Education members said during a special meeting Monday they do not believe activities should be connected to a hybrid learning model, which is a current requirement set by the state Public Education Department.

Board members say students involved in extracurricular activities overseen by the New Mexico Activities Association would perform better in school if they were allowed to continue doing extracurricular activities they love.

Athletes, parents and coaches over the weekend protested the school board's decision to remain in the online remote class model through the remainder of the school year, which would prevent participation in activities including band, choir, chess, drama and others overseen by the New Mexico Activities Association.

The Albuquerque board approved a letter Monday to Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham asking for the separation with assurances the split can be conducted safely.

The Public Education Department issued a statement saying it has remained focused on safety, maximizing in-person learning opportunities and basing decisions on science and data.

Suspect Fatally Shot By Police In Albuquerque Street ID'ed - Associated Press

Albuquerque police have identified a man shot and killed by officers after they say he charged at them with a weapon in the middle of a busy street. 

Authorities said Sunday that 40-year-old Claude Trivino, of Hernandez, was the suspect fatally shot in a confrontation in northeast Albuquerque.

Officers responded Saturday to a man who was walking in traffic, forcing cars to drive around him. 

Interim Police Chief Harold Medina said authorities tried using a stun gun on Trivino, who ignored commands to leave the street. Video footage by a witness shows a man throwing an object at officers before he was shot.

Trivino later died at a hospital.

In a statement, Medina said the shooting is a reminder that there needs to be better services for those suffering mental health or addiction.