Native American women guide the U.S. forward

National Endowment for the Humanities Chair Shelly Lowe, photo from

Native American women now lead the Department of the Interior and National Endowment for the Arts. At last.

On January 15th,, 2022 Debra Anne Haaland, a member of New Mexico’s Laguna Pueblo, became the Secretary of the Interior Department — the first Native American to become a Cabinet secretary in the United States. Less than one month later, on February 3, 2022, the U.S. Senate confirmed Shelly C. Lowe as Chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH.) Lowe is a member of the Navajo Nation and grew up on the Navajo Reservation in Ganado, Arizona. At her confirmation, Lowe said to the press, “…I am alert to the fact that access to humanities resources remains unevenly distributed across our country.” 

These confirmations are considered just as symbolic as they are historic. The Interior Department has a broad range of responsibilities and among them is the handling of Native American Affairs and the management of public lands. The department was established at the end of Zachary Taylor’s term as president on March 3, 1849. Prior to that, the former “Indian Affairs” office was part of the Department of War. I believe this may accurately reflect the general attitude of the country at that time of the government’s attitude about “Indian Affairs.”  

I look at this more closely in my Cat’s Cafe Chapter Four notes: “Looking back at the rapid western development of the United States, it is clear that the indigenous peoples were never treated well and were often treated badly by the new American settlers and the U.S. government from the beginning of the initial landings of “European whites” on their shores. As a result of this, many Native American tribes sided with the British during the American Revolution so there was bound to be hostility between the settlers and the Native Americans.” 

This only became worse when the government started seizing Native American homelands and turning them over to settlers in the early 1800s, forcing Native Americans onto reservations, and reneging on nearly every treaty over the next 40 years. 

Nominating a Native American Congresswoman as the head of the Department of Interior to provide the oversight of Native American affairs as well as taking on a responsible and progressive approach toward public land management reflects a major step forward as does the nomination of a Native American to lead the NEH.  There are still many issues to be resolved to give the original indigenous people of America fair and equal treatment. 

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