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November 20, 2018

Newly-elected Native American vows climate change fight

Newly-elected Native American vows climate change fight
'Deb Haaland was elected on a platform prioritizing the environment' - By: AFP/File Mark RALSTON

New Mexico Democrat Deb Haaland, who became one of the first Native American women elected to the US Congress this week, says she plans to make the fight for renewable energy a top priority.

A 57-year-old member of the Laguna Pueblo tribe, Haaland insists that indigenous rights are inextricably linked to climate change -- and vows to fight for "tribal nations ... battling the fossil fuel industry in their backyards."

In an interview via email, Haaland recalled that two years ago she was at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, protesting along with Sioux tribal nations the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The protesters were concerned about the pipeline's impact on sacred tribal sites as well as the environment.

"Now, I'm going to take that fight for 100% renewable energy to Congress," Haaland said.

"I would like to make New Mexico a global leader in renewable energy, not only to fight climate change but because it can provide jobs for thousands of New Mexicans."

Haaland was elected Tuesday in US midterms that also saw fellow native American Sharice Davids, a Democrat from Kansas, also win a seat in the US Congress.

Both women gave prominence to environmental issues in their campaign, driven in part by US President Donald Trump's withdrawal of the US from the Paris climate accord last year but also influenced by their heritage.

"70 years ago Native Americans right here in New Mexico couldn't vote, can you believe that?" she told AFP.

"Growing up in my mother's Pueblo household and growing up as a 35th generation New Mexican, I never imagined being represented by someone who looked like me."

A recovered alcoholic, Haaland made ends meet with the help of student loans and food stamps to get through law school -- and hopes to be a "strong voice" for minorities and the poor.

"My ancestors have sacrificed a tremendous amount to keep my customs and traditions for me," she said before the vote.

"So I want to make sure that I am bringing that perspective to the table in anything I do."

Davids, 38, a member of the Ho-Chunk tribe, scored an upset victory in conservative Kansas against Republican incumbent Republican Kevin Yoder.

"Climate change is real and should be addressed immediately," the attorney and former MMA fighter -- also the first open LGBTQ Kansan elected to Congress -- told voters during the campaign.

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