Native American nominee's grilling raises questions on bias

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FILE - In this Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021, file photo, Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., listens during the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources hearing on her nomination to be Interior secretary, on Capitol Hill in Washington. Some Republican senators labeled Haaland "radical" over her calls to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and address climate change, and said that could hurt rural America and major oil and gas-producing states. The label of Haaland as a "radical" by Republican lawmakers is getting pushback from Native Americans. (Jim Watson/Pool Photo via AP, File)

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – When Wyoming U.S. Sen. John Barrasso snapped at Deb Haaland during her confirmation hearing, many in Indian Country were incensed.

The exchange, coupled with descriptions of the Interior secretary nominee as “radical” — by other white, male Republicans — left some feeling Haaland is being treated differently because she is a Native American woman.

“If it was any other person, they would not be subjected to being held accountable for their ethnicity,” said Cheryl Andrews-Maltais, chairwoman of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head Aquinnah in Massachusetts.

At Wednesday's hearing, Barrasso wanted assurance that Haaland would follow the law when it comes to imperiled species. Before the congresswoman finished her response, Barrasso shouted, “I'm talking about the law!”

Barrasso, former chairman of Senate Indian Affairs Committee, later said his uncharacteristic reaction was a sign of frustration over Haaland dodging questions.

“My constituents deserve straight answers from the potential secretary about the law,” he said in a statement. “They got very few of those.”

Among Haaland supporters across the nation who tuned in virtually, it was infuriating.

“It was horrible. It was disrespectful,” said Rebecca Ortega of Santa Clara Pueblo in Haaland’s home state of New Mexico. “I just feel like if it would have been a white man or a white woman, he would never have yelled like that."