It was a historic ceremony: US Home Secretary Deb Haaland, the first female tribal citizen to hold the post, sworn in to Bryan Newland, a citizen of the Bay Mills Indian community, as Deputy Secretary of Business Indian.
For the first time in American history, tribal citizens lead the United States in their government-to-government relations with the Native American and Native nations of Alaska.
As deputy secretary, Newland becomes the highest official in the Bureau of Indian Affairs. One of the oldest federal agencies, the Office of Indian Affairs exists to improve the quality of life, promote economic opportunity, and assume federal responsibility to protect and enhance the trust assets of American Indians, tribal governments and of the natives of Alaska.
Newland’s experiences as an advocate for tribal governments, political advisor to the Obama administration, chief justice of the Bay Mills Indian community, and president of the Bay Mills Indian community make him uniquely qualified to lead the Office of Indian Affairs. The Indian community of Bay Mills is located near Whitefish Bay on the Upper Peninsula, on the shores of Lake Superior.
Newland is uniquely positioned to advance the priorities of the Biden administration of upholding the United States’ trust responsibility to tribal nations, strengthening nation-to-nation relations between the United States and Indian tribes, and to work to empower tribal nations to govern their own communities and make their own decisions.
In leading the BIA, Newland will draw on many of his own experiences as a tribal leader to improve relations between tribal governments and the United States.
Having just finished serving his community as Tribal President, Newland knows first-hand the challenges tribal governments face in developing sustainable economies, protecting their lands, and serving their communities. He has shown extraordinary leadership during the pandemic, urging the BIA to provide adequate testing in the Indian country and ensuring that tribal governments receive the funds allocated to them under the CARES Act.
His plea for the responsibility of the federal government to the Indian country demonstrates his deep understanding of the relationship of trust between the United States government and Indian tribes. This understanding will stand him in good stead as he will assume a key role in implementing the trust relationship and assisting tribal governments as they recover from a pandemic, which has disproportionately affected their communities.
Newland’s vision for helping tribal governments stems from his knowledge that tribal communities are best served when they are empowered to develop their own solutions to problems. Like President Biden and Secretary Haaland, he is dedicated to advancing the federal government’s commitment to ensure tribal consultation and input into federal policy development. As a former tribal president, he brings key insights into what is working for tribal leaders in this process as he seeks to improve it.
Newland shares many of the values ââof other tribal chiefs and will prioritize them as Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs. Raised in his traditional Anishinaabek homeland along the shores of Lake Superior, he values âârestoring and strengthening tribal homelands so that every Indigenous person has a place to call home. He understands that tribal homelands must be economically viable and stressed the need to return tribal wealth to tribal communities so that they thrive for generations to come. As tribal president, he sought to protect his own tribal homeland by strongly opposing Enbridge Line 5.
In addition to his field experiences in Indian country, Newland understands the challenges facing the BIA, which has not always served the Indian country well.
He acknowledges that the agency has contributed to the state of affairs in the Indian country and sees undoing colonization as intergenerational work. He stressed the importance of children to indigenous communities and acknowledged the incredible harm done to families, cultures and tribal communities when their children are abducted.
As Deputy Secretary, he will support the enforcement of the Indian Child Welfare Act, which prevents the unnecessary removal of Indian children from their tribal communities.
Newland’s appointment, alongside Haaland’s historic appointment, will usher in a transformative new era in federal Indian affairs. As head of the BIA during an administration devoted to tribal sovereignty and racial equity, Newland can begin to undo the colonization that permeated federal Indian law and policy from the inside out.
Kirsten Matoy Carlson is Professor of Law and Adjunct Associate Professor of Political Science at Wayne State University Law School, and is a leading authority on federal Indian law and legislation.