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North Dakota tribes, senators weigh in on Haaland confirmation to head Interior

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North Dakota's two U.S. senators were in the minority Monday when they voted against confirming New Mexico Democratic Rep. Deb Haaland as Interior secretary, citing her views on energy issues.

Meanwhile, the five tribal nations in the state had pushed for her to hold the Cabinet position, which she secured with a 51-40 vote.

Haaland is Laguna Pueblo and will be the first Native American to serve as head of the Interior Department.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe shared a post to an Instagram story after the vote praising Haaland for "blazing a trail as the first Native American to ever lead a Cabinet agency."

"The first, but not the last," the tribe commented.

Chairman Mark Fox of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation said the tribe is "very pleased" with her confirmation.

"We look forward to working with the first-ever Native American Cabinet member who is very knowledgeable and familiar in working with Indian Country, understanding Federal Indian Law, and the corresponding uniqueness of tribal trust lands and resources," he said in a statement to the Tribune.

Interior has a hand in a variety of matters stemming from environmental regulation to education and law enforcement on American Indian reservations. It also oversees the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management, among other divisions.

The BLM is involved in oil and gas leasing and permitting on federal lands. President Joe Biden has ordered leasing in those areas to halt while those processes come under review, a move that has frustrated North Dakota's oil industry and state officials.

While Interior does not play a direct role in permitting the Dakota Access Pipeline, Haaland's support of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe came up during her confirmation hearing last month. She visited the protest camps near the tribe's reservation in 2016.

North Dakota Republican Sens. John Hoeven and Kevin Cramer brought that up in recent statements opposing her confirmation.

"We have serious concerns about Representative Haaland’s record on energy development, including her refusal to recuse herself from matters related to the Dakota Access Pipeline and her support for the Green New Deal," Hoeven said. "This has serious consequences for workers and consumers, as well as state and local governments and tribal nations that rely on energy revenues to fund priorities like health care, education and infrastructure."

Hoeven questioned Haaland about the pipeline last month. She said she stood with pipeline opponents because she "agreed with the tribe they felt they weren't consulted in the best way."

"I know that tribal consultation is important and that is the reason I was there," she said.

Asked by Hoeven if she would recuse herself from matters related to Dakota Access, she said she would follow the advice of Interior's attorneys. Litigation is ongoing over the pipeline, which had a key permit rescinded last year. Standing Rock has concerns about the risk of an oil spill from the line, while developer Energy Transfer maintains the line is safe.

Cramer, in a statement, called Haaland "radical and out of touch with North Dakotans."

“From wanting to ban fracking to co-sponsoring the Green New Deal, Congresswoman Haaland’s vision for America would destroy the economy and ruin our energy security," he said. "Her refusal to recuse herself from decisions involving the Dakota Access Pipeline -- after participating in the DAPL protests that terrorized North Dakota -- is enough of a reason to oppose her. She is an environmental extremist who would rather lock up our public lands than manage and utilize them to the benefit of the public."

The five tribal nations with reservations in North Dakota urged Hoeven, Cramer and other senators earlier this year to support Haaland. In a letter, they cited her ability to work "in a bipartisan manner" and said she understands issues facing Western states, given that she's from New Mexico.

Haaland sent out a tweet Monday evening thanking the Senate for voting to confirm her.

"As Secretary of @Interior, I look forward to collaborating with all of you," she said. "I am ready to serve. #BeFierce."

Reach Amy R. Sisk at 701-250-8252 or amy.sisk@bismarcktribune.com.

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