Recently the federal watchdog group Protect the People’s Trust released open records documents showing the Interior Secretary had alarming connections with organizers of a violent protest in 2021 at the department. The group found that Interior Secretary Deb Haaland’s own daughter was one of the organizers.
On October 14, 2021, a protest at Interior headquarters in D.C. featured rallies of indigenous people opposed to leasing around the Chaco Culture National Historical Park. Protesters breached the building, handcuffed themselves in place, and staged a sit-in. When security personnel attempted to remove the protesters, things turned violent. Multiple police officers were injured and 55 protesters were arrested.
Haaland’s daughter, Somah, is a paid climate activist who works for the Pueblo Action Alliance (PAA), which helped lead the protest. Somah’s activism on Chaco and Secretary Haaland’s proposed withdrawal of nearly 336,500 acres in a ten-mile buffer around the national park is a huge conflict of interest. Her daughter used special access to the Interior Secretary to lobby members of Congress and conducts community organizing in New Mexico specifically to advocate for a decision for which her mother is the sole decision maker.
We raised the Interior Secretary’s conflict of interest in our comments about the proposed withdrawal around Chaco, but we didn’t know about this activism by her daughter. Can you imagine if President Trump’s Interior Secretary David Bernhardt’s daughter had lobbied him on behalf of an oil and natural gas company? The media would have been all over it. This situation is no different and probably worse, since about 5,000 Navajos stand to lose millions of dollars in income every year if the withdrawal is approved. We’re working to get the story out.
The conflict-of-interest concerns we raised in our comments were over the fact that Secretary Haaland is a member of one of the Puebloan tribes, the Laguna Pueblo, that are pushing for the buffer. The buffer places the interests of the Puebloan nations against the wishes of the Navajo Nation, which opposes the ten-mile buffer. The Navajo Nation proposed a five-mile buffer compromise that would meet the wishes of the Puebloan nations for greater protections of Chaco cultural resources while still allowing Navajo allottees to develop the oil and natural gas resources they own. The Interior Department ignored that compromise and didn’t even analyze a five-mile buffer as one of the alternatives in the withdrawal environmental assessment.
With the release of the information about the violent protest and lobbying activities of Haaland’s daughter on this very question, the conflict of interest has come into sharper focus.