California Native American leaders 'really excited' about Deb Haaland's historic swearing-in

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Now that Deb Haaland has been sworn-in as Secretary of the Interior, the U.S. has its first Native American leading a cabinet-level agency.

That means a lot to Native people in California and across the country.

Haaland will also be overseeing the Bureau of Indian Affairs, said Greg Sarris, tribal chairman of Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria.

“And historically, the Department of Interior deprived Indian people of their land and their rights and sought to control them,” he told KCBS Radio. “Now, in 2021, we have one of our own overseeing that department.”

Sarris said he believes that will mean more input from Native people over what happens to the land across the U.S.

“Locally, for our tribe, I’m really excited because one of the things that the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria want to do here in Sonoma County is continue what we started locally – that is, co-manage parks, public parks,” he noted. “So, we’re 50/50 co-managing Tolay park, 4,000 acres of land here.”

He thinks having Haaland in that position will help expedite co-management agreements between tribes and local governments.

Plus, he said, Haaland will allow young Native Americans to see themselves in the top levels of government.

“The timing is wonderful because many of us now have educational opportunities that we didn’t have before,” he told KCBS Radio. “We know that with education, nothing can stop us from getting into The White House.”