Senate confirms Michigan's Newland to lead Indian Affairs at Interior Department

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

Washington — The U.S. Senate on Saturday confirmed by voice vote Bryan Todd Newland of Michigan to be the assistant secretary overseeing Indian Affairs at the Interior Department.

Newland was nominated by President Joe Biden in April and is former tribal president of the Bay Mills Indian Community in the Upper Peninsula.

Bryan Todd Newland of Michigan's Bay Mills Indian Community was nominated by President Joe Biden to serve as assistant secretary for Indian Affairs at the U.S. Department of Interior.

He previously served as a policy adviser for Indian Affairs at Interior under former President Barack Obama in the office he is now chosen to lead.

In his new position, Newland would be advising Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, a former congresswoman and the first Native American to serve as a cabinet secretary.

"I believe that tribal governments, rather than federal agencies, are best-suited to respond to the challenges their communities face," Newland told senators at his June hearing.

"Our job is to be a collaborative trustee and ensure that Indian country drives our work. With your consent, I will be a leader for those important efforts."

At Newland's hearing, Committee Chairman Brian Schatz of Hawaii said the post is one of the "most consequential" nominations for native communities across the country, as the Interior Department's highest ranking Senate-confirmed position in Indian Affairs. 

Newland's responsibilities as assistant secretary will include maintaining government-to-government relationships with sovereign tribal nations, respecting tribal sovereignty and promoting tribal self-determination, Schatz said.

"I believe Mr. Newland has the necessary experience to hit the ground running, implement the president's agenda, and execute Indian Country's priorities," Schatz said.

"His sincerity and willingness to learn are key attributes to this position, and Mr. Newland has made clear that he's committed to serving as chief federal advocate for not just tribal nations, but for native Hawaiians, as well."

Newland grew up on the Bay Mills Indian Reservation in tribal housing and graduated from Michigan State University and the Michigan State University College of Law, where he was the first native student to enroll in the Indigenous Law and Policy Program.

He practiced law starting in 2007 before going to work for the Obama administration, according to his bio.

Newland in 2013 was elected chief judge of the Bay Mills Tribal Court, where he helped to set up the Bay Mills Healing to Wellness Court — a substance-abuse treatment court. 

He was elected tribal president in 2017, and his term overlapped with the coronavirus pandemic. He told senators at his hearing that, through a partnership with the Indian Health Service, the community began early community surveillance testing for COVID-19 and had a disproportionately low rate of infection on the reservation.

"I know firsthand the connection between public service and the lives of others. When you live with the people you serve, you cannot escape that connection — if you make a mistake, you see it," Newland said. "And if you don’t see it, there’s sure to be an auntie or a friend there to remind you."

He expressed a desire to help Indian Country "build back better" after the pandemic, and stressed urgency for responding to the crisis of violence against indigenous women and children, some of whom have gone missing. 

mburke@detroitnews.com