ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — President Joe Biden’s nominee to oversee Indigenous affairs at the Interior Department said Wednesday he won’t impede tribes as they seek to improve infrastructure, public safety and the economy on their lands.
Bryan Newland appeared before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, where he received widespread support to become assistant secretary for Indian Affairs. Tribes, too, have endorsed him as someone who is well-versed in the issues they face and as a tribal advocate.
Newland said the work will require collaboration across federal agencies, driven by tribes. He recounted how federal policies and laws impacted his childhood and his path to becoming chief judge in the Bay Mills Indian Community in Michigan and being elected tribal president.
“I know the first-hand connection between public service and the lives of others,” he said. “When you live with the people you serve, you can’t escape that connection.”
If confirmed by the full Senate, Newland would be responsible for maintaining the political relationship that 574 federally recognized tribes have with the federal government. Leaders of the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Office of Indian Gaming and the U.S. Bureau of Indian Education would report to him.
Newland currently serves as principal deputy assistant secretary at the Interior Department and served in the agency during the Obama administration. In the new role, he would advise Secretary Deb Haaland broadly on tribes.
Senators asked Newland to ensure the Interior Department would respond with urgency to an epidemic of missing and slain Native Americans, preserve tribes’ rights to develop oil and gas, expand broadband, help seek funding for tribal water settlements and keep in mind that not all Indigenous groups are similar in structure, culture and economics, including Native Hawaiians.
“The job is not an easy one,” said Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the vice-chair of the committee.
Some tribes have been frustrated over the years at the lack of funding for tribal police and the dozens of Bureau of Indian Education schools that are among the worst-performing in the nation, along with the bureaucracy in getting a home or road improvements on reservations.
Newland said the Interior Department is starting to look at what could be the root of the police shortage, whether it be the challenges of the job or the pay.
Tribes and tribal organizations overwhelmingly supported Newland’s nomination, citing his experience, diplomacy and expertise in federal law regarding Native Americans. They called on the Senate to swiftly confirm him.
“At a time when America is reckoning with its past, Mr. Newland is the right person to meet this moment and deliver meaningful change for Indian Country,” one letter read.