Indian Country gripped by Haaland hearing for top US post

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This photo provided by Debbie Nez-Manuel shows her husband, Royce Manuel, left and Nez-Manuel at their home at the Salt River-Pima Maricopa Community northeast of Phoenix on Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021. The couple will be among Native Americans who will be closely watching the confirmation hearing for Deb Haaland, a New Mexico congresswoman who has been nominated to lead the U.S. Department of the Interior, on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021. (Debbie Nez-Manuel via AP)

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – For Native Americans, Deb Haaland is more than an elected official on track to become the first Indigenous secretary of the Interior Department. She is a sister, an auntie and a fierce pueblo woman whose political stances have been molded by her upbringing.

News of her historic nomination electrified Indian Country. Tribal leaders and organizations for weeks have urged people to write and call U.S. senators who will decide if she’ll lead the agency that has broad oversight over Native American affairs and energy development.

Haaland’s confirmation hearing this week is being closely watched in tribal communities, with some virtual parties drawing hundreds of people. The hearing started Tuesday and will continue Wednesday.

To mark the event, supporters projected a picture of the New Mexico congresswoman on the side of the Interior building with text that read “Our Ancestors’ Dreams Come True." A mobile billboard with Haaland's image also made its way around Washington, D.C.

Many Native Americans see Haaland as a reflection of themselves, someone who will elevate their voices and protect the environment and tribes’ rights. Here are stories of her impact:

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ALETA ‘TWEETY’ SUAZO, 66, LAGUNA AND ACOMA PUEBLOS IN NEW MEXICO

Suazo first met Haaland when they were campaigning for Barack Obama, walking door to door in New Mexico's pueblos.