TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Leaders of the Inter-Tribal Council of the Five Civilized Tribes met for their quarterly meeting Jan. 8 via videoconference as a precaution due to COVID-19.

Tribal leaders first discussed their response and recovery efforts amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and provided updates on other tribal activities. Leaders also passed a series of resolutions, including one supporting the confirmation of U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland (D-NM) as Secretary of the Interior.

President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris selected Haaland as their nominee for the U.S. Secretary of the Interior. If confirmed by the Senate, Haaland, an enrolled citizen of the Pueblo of Laguna, would be the first American Indian to serve in the Presidential cabinet and the first American Indian to serve as the Secretary of the Interior.

“Deb Haaland is uniquely qualified to serve as Secretary of the Interior,” said Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. “As a graduate of the University of New Mexico Law School and a former tribal administrator, Congresswoman Haaland has firsthand knowledge of tribal governance. She is a trailblazer. The nomination of an American Indian to a cabinet-level position is groundbreaking, and it is long overdue. As a champion of tribal sovereignty, Haaland is an excellent choice to lead the Department of the Interior.”

If confirmed as Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, Haaland would be charged with leading divisions of the federal government that are critical to Indian Country and the government-to-government relationship, including the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Bureau of Indian Education, and the Bureau of Trust Funds Administration.

“Rep. Haaland is well-qualified to serve as the first Native American Secretary of the Interior,” said Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby. “I believe her nomination illustrates a unique understanding of the importance of Native involvement in vital policy decisions affecting the citizens of tribal nations.”

During her time in Congress, Haaland has served as Vice Chair of the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources, as the Chair of the Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, and as a member of the subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples of the United States.

“Native voices should always be involved in discussions that impact Native communities,” said Muscogee (Creek) Nation Principal Chief David Hill. “We not only support the confirmation of Congresswoman Haaland as Secretary of the Interior, but we also ask that her selection to a cabinet-level position be only the beginning of more Native representation in the federal government, at all levels.”

A resolution urging the full funding of Indian Country priorities in President Biden’s administration was also approved during the meeting. The resolution asks President Biden to adopt, as the policy of his administration, key tribal self-governance and self-determination funding principles to ensure maximum flexibility of federal funds and better tribal inclusion in the federal budgeting process.

Choctaw Nation Assistant Chief Jack Austin Jr., reporting on behalf of Chief Gary Batton, touched on the tribe’s recent efforts to provide services to tribal citizens including food security, housing, technology and educational assistance amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Like other tribes, our focus has been assisting our citizens through the pandemic while continuing the day-to-day operations,” Assistant Chief Austin said. “Despite the toll of the pandemic, our employees’ heart and compassion for their fellow man continues to be demonstrated daily. Our COVID response certainly couldn’t have happened without our employees volunteering and filling gaps for another role outside of their normal job duties.”

During the January 2021 gathering of the Five Tribes, leaders also selected Chief Hoskin to continue serving as President of the Inter-Tribal Council for a second consecutive term, along with Chief Hill as Vice President for a second consecutive term.

Guest speakers included Regional Director of the Eastern Oklahoma Bureau of Indian Affairs Eddie Streater; Rear Adm. Travis Watts, Director of the Oklahoma City Area Indian Health Service; Clara Pratte, representing President Biden’s transition team; and Oklahoma Secretary of State and Secretary of Native American Affairs Brian Bingman.

Seminole Nation Chief Greg Chilcoat was unable to participate in the general session meeting.

The Inter-Tribal Council of the Five Civilized Tribes is an organization comprised of the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee (Creek), and Seminole Nations representing 790,000 tribal citizens throughout the United States.