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    Monday, August 08, 2022

    U.S. Interior secretary pays visit to Mashantuckets, Mohegans

    Lynn Malerba, left, the Mohegan Tribe chief, and U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, to the right of Malerba, on Wednesday, March 2, 2022, were among a group who visited the Mohegan Church, in background. (Courtesy of the Mohegan Tribe)

    U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland privately visited the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan reservations Wednesday, Haaland’s office and the tribes acknowledged later in the day.

    Haaland toured the Mohegan Cultural Preservation Center, the Tantaquidgeon Museum and the Mohegan Church for about 90 minutes before traveling to Mashantucket, where she met for about an hour with tribal leaders in the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center.

    It was Haaland’s first official visit to either reservation since being sworn in as secretary in March 2021, the first Native American Cabinet secretary in U.S. history. She previously visited the Mohegan reservation in October 2019 while representing New Mexico in the U.S. House of Representatives. She is a member of the Laguna Pueblo.

    Lynn Malerba, the Mohegan chief, said Haaland was accompanied by several staff members.

    “She’s so down to earth,” Malerba said. “She works so hard at understanding tribes and the people she represents. It’s so important for tribes to share their culture. Every tribe is different, and she’s interested in nuances."

    In a statement, James Gessner Jr., chairman of the Mohegan Tribal Council, called it “a historic day for the Mohegan Tribe.”

    "She has been a fierce advocate for tribal communities,” he said of Haaland, “and we’re pleased that she visited the morning after President (Joe) Biden announced in his State of the Union that he was committed to investing in critical infrastructure in our communities. ... Just as we value our historic partnerships with the State of Connecticut and local neighboring municipalities, our ongoing collaboration with the federal government and the Department of Interior is of the utmost importance to our tribal leadership and our members.”

    Lori Potter, spokeswoman for the Mashantucket Tribe, said Haaland was welcomed by members of the tribal council, elders’ council and youth council.

    “A longtime friend of Mashantucket, Secretary Haaland is the first sitting secretary of Interior to ever visit our reservation,” Potter said in a statement. “There was no better way to kick off Women’s History Month than hosting a woman who has broken so many barriers and has an unparalleled commitment to this country and all Native Americans.”

    In a news release, Haaland’s office said her visit helped underscore the 2021 bipartisan infrastructure law’s $13 billion investment in Indian Country, which will help strengthen tribal economies, bolster community resilience, replace aging infrastructure and expand access to clean drinking water and high-speed internet. The law includes $466 million for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, including $216 million for climate programs and $250 million to support water and health infrastructure.

    On Wednesday, Haaland also joined Gov. Ned Lamont and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Martha Williams at the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge headquarters in Westbrook to highlight the infrastructure law’s allocation of $1.4 billion for ecosystem restoration.

    b.hallenbeck@theday.com

    U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland views a display Wednesday, March 2, 2022, at the Mohegan Tribe's Tantaquidgeon Museum as Jason LaVigne, a Mohegan tribal historian, looks on. (Courtesy of the Mohegan Tribe)

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