Tribal Government & News

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland visits Oregon

03.30.2023 Dean Rhodes Federal government, Tribal relations


By Dean Rhodes

Smoke Signals editor

Tribal Council Chairwoman Cheryle A. Kennedy and Secretary Michael Langley traveled to Bend on Saturday, March 18, to meet with Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, who was in Oregon to highlight federal investments to support wildland fire preparedness, water management and outdoor recreation opportunities.

Haaland was accompanied by Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy Management and Budget Joan Mooney and other Interior department leaders.

The group met with Oregon Tribal leaders from all nine federally recognized Tribes in the state to hear about ongoing priorities in their communities and how investments in Indian Country can continue to deliver support and resources across Indigenous communities.

Kennedy and Langley discussed the meeting during the Tuesday, March 21, Legislative Action Committee meeting.

Kennedy said Interior staff members were most interested in her requests to add budget lines to the Bureau of Indian Affairs for newly restored Tribes that address funding for law enforcement, public safety and fire management.

She also mentioned adding a line item regarding cultural restoration.

“That is what the effort was to begin with,” Kennedy said, “to remove our identity and culture.”

Kennedy said she also asked for an interdepartmental commission to focus on homelessness in Indian Country.

Langley added that the challenge of these types of meetings with high-level federal officials is that all Tribal representatives want to speak about the issues they are passionate about, but they only have a brief amount of time to do so.

“It’s kind of developing that elevator pitch to make sure you hit everything that you need to hit,” Langley said.

Langley said he talked with Interior staff members about the Tribe’s work on the Willamette River and issues with removal of upper Willamette River dams.

“It makes so much sense to do something with these dams,” Langley said, adding the removal of the dams should appeal to both fiscal conservatives as well as environmentalists.

Haaland also met with Bend Mayor Melanie Kebler during a roundtable discussion about the importance of outdoor recreation for the area economy. She then visited Crater Lake National Park to highlight the $45 million in federal funds from the Great American Outdoors Act to rehabilitate sections of the East Rim Drive.

From there, Haaland and Merkley visited Klamath Falls and met with Tribes, irrigators and Interior Department staff to discuss the water and wildlife issues affecting the Klamath Basin.

To end her trip to Oregon, Haaland and Merkley visited Medford and met with wildland fire preparedness and response officials to receive a briefing on the state’s fire outlook in 2023 and discuss ongoing wildland fire efforts. The federal government is allocating more than $21 million from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law this year for wildfire risk reduction efforts in Oregon.

Haaland became the first Native American Cabinet member in the history of the country in March 2021.