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Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland meets with tribes in Southwest Colorado

Tour of rural, tribal communities focuses on environmental and federal-Native American issues
Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland visited the Southern Ute Reservation on Saturday to discuss federal-tribal relations. (Durango Herald file)

Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland visited the Southern Ute Reservation near Ignacio on Saturday to discuss U.S. relations with the Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute tribes.

During a multistop tour across Colorado, Haaland discussed the Department of the Interior’s plans to support rural and tribal communities. The discussions focused on key issues for tribal nations and transitioning rural economies as part of the Biden administration’s move toward a sustainable, clean energy future, according to a Department of Interior news release.

“Many rural towns and communities were hit hard by the economic impacts of the pandemic, but I know that these communities are self-reliant and pragmatic,” Haaland said. “As we transition toward a clean energy economy, the Interior Department is committed to creating economic opportunities in conservation and public land management for all communities.”

In Ignacio, Haaland’s visit focused primarily on the Interior’s work to assist tribes. The meeting covered strengthening the role of tribal consultation in federal decision-making, supporting Indigenous resilience to the pandemic, combating the crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous People and addressing the county’s history with federal Native American boarding schools, according to the news release.

The Department of the Interior declined to comment about the private meeting, and the Southern Ute Indian Tribe did not respond to a request for comment.

Under Haaland, the federal department has taken some action on federal-tribal topics already. In May, Haaland announced a newly created Missing and Murdered Unit in the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which is housed within the Department of the Interior.

The unit will address thousands of unsolved cases in which primarily Indigenous women and girls have gone missing or have been murdered – with no suspects, justice or closure for families, according to a May statement from the department.

The Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative will address the federal program to forcibly assimilate Indigenous children through education.

The program launched in June after the discovery of nearly 1,000 unmarked graves at boarding schools in Canada. It will identify American facilities and sites, like the old Fort Lewis College campus, where there may have been student burials and find the tribal affiliations of the children.

Haaland also highlighted locally led efforts to advance conservation and grow the state’s outdoor recreation economy during her tour.

In Ridgway, part of Ouray County, the secretary participated in a roundtable discussion focused on the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Economy (CORE) Act. The federal legislation would conserve more than 400,000 acres of public land in Colorado, establish new wilderness areas and safeguard existing outdoor recreation opportunities to boost the economy for future generations.

The CORE Act reflects the goals of the America the Beautiful Initiative, a locally led, nationwide effort to conserve, connect and restore 30% of lands, waters and wildlife by 2030, according to the department’s news release.

In Hotchkiss, part of Delta County, Haaland met with state and local leaders to discuss transitioning economies in rural areas.

Part of the federal government’s plan to invest in rural communities is called the Build Back Better Agenda. The plan aims to build resilience to climate change and extreme weather events while creating jobs that would help clean the pollution in rural communities with economies that rely on fossil fuels.

Local farmers, ranchers, conservationists and entrepreneurs joined the discussion and shared a range of issues affecting rural communities in Colorado. One area of concern was the community’s economic transition away from fossil fuels and to organic farming, outdoor recreation and clean energy, the release said.

During the tour, Haaland was joined by U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper; Lt. Gov. Dianne Primavera; and Nada Culver, deputy director of policy and programs for the Bureau of Land Management.


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