DULUTH --- U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber drew the ire of Native American bands in his district late last week after they'd learned he was working behind the scenes to deny the first Indigenous person nominated as a U.S. Cabinet secretary.

In a letter obtained Monday, Jan. 18, by Forum News Service and first reported by NBC News, five Minnesota bands accused Stauber of catering to industrial interests in his bid to withdraw U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland, D-New Mexico, from consideration as President-elect Joe Biden's Secretary of Interior.

The five tribal leaders in the 8th Congressional District were galled that Stauber failed to consult with them.

“(Y)our opposition to the first and only American Indian ever nominated to a cabinet position is likely to reverberate across Indian country,” said the letter to Stauber signed by Melanie Benjamin, Cathy Chavers, Robert F. Deschampe, Kevin R. Dupuis Sr., and Faron Jackson Sr. tribal chairs representing, respectively, the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, Bois Forte Band of Chippewa, Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa and Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe.

“Most concerning is that you did not consult with us as the sovereign federally recognized tribal governments in your district in advance of initiating this effort that has such a direct impact on us as your American Indian constituents,” the letter added.

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U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber
U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber

Another Midwestern tribal advocacy group described Stauber's actions as "hostile" and "irresponsible," saying he "demonized" Haaland, and risked hurting the nonpartisan dealings of the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Forum News Service has not been able to reach Stauber for comment.

In his own letters, Stauber had sought to sway congressional colleagues from confirming Haaland, describing her as “a threat to America’s natural resources-based economy.”

“As a Congressional Progressive Caucus Member and a lead sponsor of the Green New Deal, Representative Haaland supports eliminating the high-wage jobs in sectors that drive our economy,” a Stauber letter said. “Ending oil and gas, mining, aviation, and logging will exacerbate our reliance on foreign sources with no labor or environmental standards and simultaneously kill jobs with family-sustaining wages.”

A Stauber letter was posted on Twitter over the weekend by state Sen. Jen McEwen, DFL-Duluth. She received it from a fellow state senator, she said.

McEwen called Stauber's efforts "a betrayal" of the bands, and said she posted the letter because she's a constituent and that "people deserve to know what he’s doing in Washington, D.C."

“The worst part is that he didn’t even consult with the five bands and nations within his district,” McEwen said. “That is beyond the pale. He’s going out of his way to advocate for industry in a way that shows me he does not represent the people.”

In December, tribal nations across the country celebrated President-elect Joe Biden’s nomination of Haaland.

"He should know how historically important and deeply meaningful this nomination is for Indigenous people of the United States across the board," McEwen said.

In their letter to Stauber, the 8th District's tribal leaders said it is rare for the country's 574 recognized tribes to unanimously agree on any issue, but that the nomination of Rep. Haaland "is as close as Indian country has ever come to having one unified position."

U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland (REUTERS / Kevin Lamarque)
U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland (REUTERS / Kevin Lamarque)

“This historic nomination is more important to us and all of Indian country than any other cabinet nomination in recent history,” the five tribal leaders said in their letter to Stauber. “Our voice deserved equal consideration prior to you taking these actions, but you did not provide us with that opportunity.”

As a congressman, Stauber has campaigned hard for fossil fuel and mineral extraction projects. The Hermantown Republican favors copper-nickel mining on the Iron Range, and was a strong proponent of the Enbridge Line 3 replacement project currently under construction.

He's also been a vocal opponent of the proposed Green New Deal, a Democratic suite of legislation which would address climate change, in part, by drawing down the county's reliance on fossil fuels.

"He's told a lot of lies about it," McEwen said of Stauber. "The Green New Deal is a jobs program to encourage our transition to clean energy everyone should be in favor of it. It should not be controversial. But the heads of the right wing who've tried to ride Donald Trump's coattails for the last four years choose to pick on certain things to rev up their base."

Jen McEwen
Jen McEwen

Stauber has referred to the Green New Deal as "expensive socialist policy," which he says would eliminate industries such as mining and farming.

In a separate letter obtained by Forum News Service addressed to the presidential transition team, Stauber wrote that the Green New Deal "sets unfathomable energy objectives," which, he added, would force mines, mills and manufacturers out of business. He also said Haaland "rejects America's leadership as a net exporter of petroleum," and charged her with being opposed to "high-wage mining jobs."

"In the House, Rep. Haaland has illustrated opposition to America’s economic drivers by supporting legislation directly targeting mining projects and oil and gas development," Stauber wrote. "The secretary of the interior is responsible for leases across the United States and would be well-positioned to enact a Green New Deal agenda nationwide."

The U.S. Department of the Interior oversees management and conservation of most federal lands and natural resources.

A separate letter from the Midwest Alliance of Sovereign Tribes, based in Wisconsin, referred to Stauber's efforts as "unprecedented," and "a direct affront" to Indian Country. The alliance worked hard to advance Haaland's nomination, it said, and asked Stauber to "step back" from leading the campaign against Haaland. It referenced Stauber's position on the House Committee on Natural Resources.

"We are unaccustomed to any member of Congress serving in a leadership position on a committee or subcommittee with jurisdiction over Indian tribes taking such a public role in leading an attack that diametrically opposes the wishes of nearly all of Indian country," it wrote.

Biden's cabinet nominations have to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate. It's unclear which or how many senators received Stauber's letter.