She is a Progressive and Could be the First Native American Woman in Congress

Deb Haaland, a Laguna Pueblo Woman won the primary in the NM First Congressional District. She could be the first Native American woman elected to Congress

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Story Transcript

MARC STEINER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Marc Steiner. It’s wonderful to have you with us again today.

We’re going to continue our coverage of the elections. And this has been a remarkably interesting election primary season. We may see a Congress that, for the first time in United States history, has two Native American women as representatives. One of those women won the primary in New Mexico’s First Congressional District: Deb Haaland. She was chair of the Democratic Party in New Mexico, and member of the Laguna Pueblo nation. She ran as a Native woman with an unabashed progressive political platform. She’s been a fighter for Native rights, for justice against ICE and restrictive immigration laws, and for a more inclusive America.

DEB HAALAND: Tonight we made history. Our win is a victory for working people, a victory for women, a victory for Indian Country, and a victory for everyone who’s been sidelined by the billionaire class.

MARC STEINER: That was Deb Haaland on the night of her primary victory. She joins us now for a conversation. Welcome to Real News, Deb Haaland. Good to have you with us.

DEB HAALAND: Thanks so much. Thanks for having me.

MARC STEINER: So what was that night like for you? I mean, just-.

DEB HAALAND: You know, it’s awesome to win. I worked on a lot of campaigns. I worked on many, many campaigns over the last couple decades. And yeah, it’s always nice to win. But that night I had my family with me. Our office was packed with supporters and volunteers. And it was really quite amazing.

MARC STEINER: The significance of this, and you spoke about it a bit on your election night and people have talked about it a great deal. As a member of the Laguna Pueblo nation, as a Native woman, you could become the first or one of the first two Native women to ever serve in the United States Congress. And given where our country is and the battles we have over what America should be and where it came from, I mean, this is a significant victory. And it’s more than symbolic, I think.

DEB HAALAND: Yes. Oh, absolutely, yes. It’s boots on the ground. Having somebody with, with my perspective, with my history, with, you know, the history that my ancestors endured, having a seat at the table, it’s extremely significant. And so yes, I’d be very proud and honored to to be one of the first Native women. We’re supporting Sharice Davids, by the way. We hope she wins. We supported her primary campaign and we’ll support her now in the general.

So, so yes. It’s, you know, it’s a time- and of course, this primary season has really turned out to to be amazing for women across the country. Women candidates are winning every race, it seems like. And so yeah, I think, I think everything’s, our country is going to look a lot different after the November 6 elections.

MARC STEINER: Staying on this theme for just a moment, I think it’s really important. I was reading a great deal about what you had to say about ICE, the abolition of ICE, and immigration in our country. And one of the things you did in your conversations that I pulled out which reflect on what had happened to Native people in America was separation of families. Could you talk about your position on all of that and how that relates to what I just described?

DEB HAALAND: Sure. Well, look, governmental policies that separate families, they were not good when they were doing it and the boarding school era, which my- both of my Indian grandparents were products of. And it’s not good now. And you know, I’m a member of Laguna Pueblo, and my grandmother was taken from her family when she was eight years old and sent to a Catholic boarding school. It was only, you know, 100 or so miles away. But back then, when her dad only had a horse and wagon to travel, he was only able to visit her twice in five years.

And so, you know, it’s hard to know exactly what the priest told the people when they were coming through the Pueblos to say your kids need to go to boarding school, and why the parents let them go. Maybe it was out of fear. I’m not exactly sure about that. But nonetheless, family separation is old. It keeps rearing its ugly head. And it’s something that really needs to just stop.

MARC STEINER: You also, in your opening statements after you won, talked about this as a victory against Donald Trump and the billionaire class. Yes. I mean, look, I just read an article that shows that CEO salaries have risen under Donald Trump. That means the disparity between working class people and the folks who are making $19 million a year is growing. And it’s, it is not a sustainable economy for anybody.

And you know, at the same time that working class wages aren’t keeping pace with, you know, our times, they’re working to cut, you know, benefits. Working-class benefits like food stamps, and Medicaid, and all of the things that people rely on just to be able to move forward. It’s unfair. Nobody should live in this kind of poverty in our country when there are people making $19-20-plus million a year. It is, it’s unfair, it’s inequitable, and we need to do something about that.

MARC STEINER: Let me go back for a moment to what I raised earlier, and I should have asked you immediately after I said the last thing, but it popped in my head here. That when you, when you look at immigration and look at borders in our country, and I was thinking of conversations I had not long ago with friends who come off the Tohono O’odham Nation on the Mexican border, that spent a lot of time, actually, helping people who are migrants crossing the desert so they don’t die in the desert. And the whole question of borders and the history of the United States with Native people, especially in the Southwest, I think is something that we as a nation should hear and that we as a nation can learn from, in terms of what our perspective is about what Mexico means, what borders mean, and how we can begin to perceive this in a way that we’re almost frightened to take in. Do you know what I’m talking about?

DEB HAALAND: Right. Well, yes. The Tohono O’odham tribe is a good example. They don’t have a boundary line between the United States and Mexico. That is their Indian land and it doesn’t have a border. So that, you know, we take that into perspective, and they are definitely against building a wall. I am against building a wall. I, at the same time, I am not advocating for open borders. I think the borders are there. But what I am advocating for is a more humane immigration policy. There is no reason that ICE agents should be laying in wait outside of churches, hospitals, courthouses, and schools to arrest people who are just, you know, trying to live their lives. It’s almost as if this administration is treating every single immigrant as a criminal. And that is definitely not the case.

Here in New Mexico, we’re a border state. No one that I have spoken to in New Mexico is in agreement with the president’s policies on separating children from their families. Nobody that I’ve spoken to in New Mexico is in favor of deporting DACA recipients. We need a humane immigration policy. We need a path for those folks to become citizens. And that’s what we should be working on.

MARC STEINER: So what do you see as the primary issues that you want to speak about, fight for, look for legislation around when you get to Congress? Assuming you do win, which most people think you will.

DEB HAALAND: Well, we are going to work very hard to win. We’ll just get that out there. So yes, immigration is a big issue here in New Mexico. So is climate change and renewable energy. I think we can protect or fight climate change and create jobs with a green economy right here in New Mexico. We have almost 300 days of sun per year. There’s no reason why New Mexico shouldn’t be leading the country and the world on renewable energy. So that is a big deal to me.

You know, if anybody wanted to know the effects of climate change, we’re feeling it here in the Southwest. Right now it’s our monsoon season. So yes, we have had some rain. But the winter, when we usually have snow on on every mountain in New Mexico, was extremely dry. And we are feeling those effects profoundly. So that is another issue. Healthcare, of course. Everybody needs to have healthcare. There’s- it’s not a privilege. It is a right. And I know what it’s like to sit in a government hospital for three hours holding a sick child. I also know what it’s like to use Planned Parenthood because it’s affordable and accessible. Folks in rural communities find it hard to find a job. There’s no public transportation. There’s a lot of issues that prevent folks from from being completely successful. And the government should be helping and not hurting them.

Those are issues, too. Of course, you know, women’s reproductive rights, those have been on the line. Any time we have Republicans in charge they’re working to make it harder for women to get the healthcare they need. So a lot of those states, yes. I mean, there’s there’s a million important issues. And you know, I would like to work on all of it.

MARC STEINER: And you may get that chance. So you talked about the green economy for a moment. Let’s go back to that just for a minute. One of the divides we talked about yesterday when we were talking about the DNC taking fossil fuel money, which I’ll ask about in the moment, was the split often you find between many trade unions, especially blue collar unions, and the environmental movement, because the jobs that sit in the clean energy sector often pay half of what a union job might pay in the fossil fuel sector. So some people have been pushing for this idea of a Green New Deal, something to help build an economy around that. And so people actually can make make a wage you can live on while you’re working in the clean energy sector. Have you had thoughts about that?

DEB HAALAND: Well, we should pay people more. I mean, the Green New Deal should include increased wages for people. Those are important jobs. More important than those in the fossil fuel industry right now. We want to grow that economy. We need to give people decent wages, wages they can live on. I am not in favor of saying, OK, this is a cheap way of producing energy. Yes, if we use our natural resources we’re utilizing something that is not going to be, you know, invade our terrain, so to speak. But we should pay those folks more money. It’s an important job.

You know, it’s almost like we have this billionaire class who are just making money hand over fist, and then there’s the rest of us, right. Teachers included. Teachers who, with two master’s degrees who have to get food from a food bank because they’re not being paid a livable wage. That that is shameful to us. And so we need to increase the wages so that the workers- I’m not in favor of anyone losing their job. Not in this economy. And so I understand that it might take some time for us to move over to, you know, this Green New Deal. But I think we can fix that by making sure that those folks earn a living wage, and is something comparable to what they were earning in the fossil fuel industry.

MARC STEINER: So two quick political questions here, then I’ll let you go, because I know you have a busy day. And they’re about the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party recently passed a rule in the DNC that they would take fossil fuel money after saying they would not take fossil fuel money, which has caused an uproar. There was even Nancy Pelosi’s daughter who actually tweeted it out first at that meeting, because she was taken aback by the vote. And then there’s also the question of superdelegates and who should represent the people in choosing the next presidential candidate within the Democratic Party. How do you feel about those two issues?

DEB HAALAND: You know, I, I am a total team player. And I think the, the DNC, they came up with a plan to, to have the superdelegates vote, to hold it off until the second ballot or the third ballot, or what have you. And I’m in favor of anything that helps our party be more inclusive. I’m in favor of, you know, if it’s, if that’s what we all decide to do, I will go along with it. As a congresswoman, I believe I would be a superdelegate. I am ready to not endorse a candidate until after the primary. I’m, you know what I’m saying? Like I don’t want to- if anything, I want more people to feel like they’re part of the party. And so anything that I can do personally to make sure that I am, you know, acting in that fashion, I will do.

I personally have taken a no fossil fuel pledge. I mean that. In addition to that. I don’t take payday lending money and I won’t take money from big pharma. I won’t take money from the NRA. I won’t take money from any entity that compromises my values. And so I think that, I admire Christine for her tenacity on the subject. And I, I’m happy that she is there to, you know, be a voice.

MARC STEINER: Well, Deb Haaland, I appreciate the time you’ve taken with us here at The Real News today. From the First District in New Mexico, joining us from Albuquerque. Good luck on the campaign field. We’ll be talking together soon. Take care.

DEB HAALAND: OK. Thanks.

MARC STEINER: And I’m Marc Steiner for The Real News Network. Thank you so much for joining us. We’ll be back with you very soon. Take care.