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Nominee for U.S. secretary of the Interior visited Mohegans in 2019

Mohegan — President Joe Biden’s nominee for secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior made a positive impression on Mohegan tribal leaders when she visited the reservation here in October 2019.

U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland, a New Mexico Democrat who first made history in 2018 when she and Sharice Davids, a Kansas Democrat, became the first two Native Americans elected to Congress, discussed federal policies affecting tribes during the visit, including such matters as taking land into trust, health, education and government-to-government consultation, according to a spokesman for the Mohegans.

Haaland is a member of the Laguna Pueblo, which, like the Mohegans and the Mashantucket Pequots in southeastern Connecticut, is among the country’s 574 federally recognized tribes. When her nomination for Interior secretary was announced last month, the Mohegan Tribe offered “heartfelt congratulations.”

“Having worked directly and personally with Congresswoman Haaland, we can attest to her intellect, her abilities, and her forthrightness,” James Gessner Jr., the Mohegan chairman, said in a statement. “Her background and experience demonstrate her appreciation of how important it is for us all to be stewards of our land and environment. She is an extremely qualified nominee."

“This is a historic decision for all of Indian Country, one that gives hope to all indigenous people of this land that we can be heard and understood by those in positions of power in Washington, D.C.,” Gessner said.

If confirmed by the Senate, Haaland would become the first Native American to lead a Cabinet-level agency. She would succeed David Bernhardt, who has served as the Interior secretary since April 11, 2019. The secretary leads an agency with more than 70,000 employees who are stewards for 20% of the nation’s lands, including national parks, monuments, wildlife refuges and other public lands.

The Interior Department is involved in a lawsuit over its approval of amendments to the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot tribes’ gaming agreements with Connecticut. MGM Resorts, the Las Vegas-based gaming giant that opened a resort casino in Springfield, Mass., in 2018, is seeking to upend the amendments, which the tribes and the state negotiated in connection with the tribes’ plan to develop a commercial casino in East Windsor.

The state and the tribes successfully sought intervenor status on the side of the Interior Department, the defendant in the lawsuit.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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