December 18, 2020 Casino, Tribal, Legal

Deb Haaland first Native American chosen to head Department of Interior


President-elect Joe Biden has chosen New Mexico Rep. and Native American Deb Haaland to lead the Department of Interior, a move that could grow tribal influence at the federal level.

If confirmed, Haaland would become the first Native American to lead the Interior Dept, which includes the Bureau of Indian Affairs and National Indian Gaming Commission.

Haaland is a member of the federally recognized Laguna Pueblo tribe of west-central New Mexico. Before joining Congress, Haaland served as chair of the Laguna Development Corp., a business responsible for overseeing two New Mexico tribal casinos.

Haaland would hold significant sway over cases involving tribal gaming, such as the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s ongoing effort to build a casino in Taunton, Massachusetts.

This March, the DOI ruled that the tribe did not qualify for land-in-trust status, a decision. That decision was overturned by a US District Judge in June, but the DOI was appealing the judge’s ruling as of this fall.

In 2015, the DOI had awarded the tribe several hundred acres, on which the Mashpee hoped to build a $1bn casino.

Under President Trump, the DOI has butted heads with tribes on several instances. Former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke was accused of deliberately delaying approval for a tribal casino in Connecticut after intense lobbying from MGM leaders and Republican lawmakers.

The DOI eventually gave the Mohegan and Mashantucket tribes the greenlight to build a casino in East Windsor, CT. but not without frayed relationships between tribal leaders and the federal government.

Haaland, who grew up on tribal land, would represent a stark change from the present administration.

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