In what would turn out to be its last hurrah, a Twitter account of Donald Trump’s Interior Department, “No Bull Bison,” fact-checked Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.).
Haaland is now President Joe Biden’s nominee to take over the agency.
@NoBullBison appeared in April 2019 and immediately began taking swings at critics of Trump’s Interior Department.
“Bison bringing the facts - calling out the bull,” read the profile’s bio, a reference to the federal agency’s bison seal. (It was only after HuffPost revealed that the profile was set up using a government email address that the Interior Department acknowledged that it was its own.)
The No Bull Bison’s run on social media would prove brief, insignificant and, above all, ironic.
In its final post in May 2019, the online ungulate called out Haaland, one of the first two Native American women elected to Congress, for apparently misstating the number of federally recognized tribes in the U.S. during a congressional hearing.
The post, which was still up as of Thursday, garnered a grand total of two likes, two retweets and three scathing responses.
Late last year, Biden announced he would nominate Haaland, an enrolled member of the Pueblo of Laguna tribe, as his interior secretary. If the Senate confirms her, she will make history as the first Native American Cabinet secretary and the first Native American to serve as the top steward of America’s public lands and natural resources.
A review of Haaland’s five-minute exchange with then-Interior Secretary David Bernhardt during the 2019 hearing shows that Interior’s fact-check misrepresented Haaland’s words. She never said there were 767 federally recognized tribes. What she said was that during her first five months in Congress, she’d met with “over 300 Indian tribes and tribal organizations” and that the lack of government-to-government consultation was the issue raised most often, including surrounding the administration’s plans to reorganize the agency.
Bernhardt defended himself, saying that “with the reorganization, in particular, tribes had an incredibly strong voice.”
“They had such a strong voice,” he added, “that we decided that we would not include either the Bureau of Indian Affairs or the Bureau of Indian Education in the reorganization.”
“That’s very interesting,” Haaland said. “So perhaps the other 467 tribes that I haven’t actually spoken to are the ones who agree, because the 300 that I’ve talked to absolutely did not.”
It is true that there are 574 federally recognized tribes, not 767. (The Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians received federal recognition in December 2019, months after the hearing.) But again, Haaland stated at the beginning of her line of questioning that she’d met with 300 tribes and tribal organizations, not that they all represented separate tribes.
The Interior Department took to its troll Twitter account to raise a fuss over an apparent number discrepancy shortly after Haaland grilled Bernhardt — the person she is likely to soon replace at the agency — about the administration’s failure to properly engage with Native American tribes.
Along with managing 500 million acres of federal land — roughly one-fifth of the U.S. — the Interior Department is responsible for honoring the government’s trust responsibilities to tribes.
At the hearing, Haaland read Bernhardt a definition of tribal consultation ― “to ensure tribes have a strong voice in shaping federal policies that directly impact their ability to govern themselves” ― and asked if he agreed with it.
“Umm, I agree that that’s potentially a definition,” Bernhardt stumbled.
“Well, I hope you agree with it because that is your department’s definition,” Haaland replied.
Haaland later pressed Bernhardt about his duty when then-President Donald Trump “seeks to not only to alienate tribes but essentially discount our history, make mockery of mass graves in this country.”
She read aloud a racist tweet from January 2018 in which Trump mocked an Instagram video by Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren that he said would have “been a smash” if it had been filmed “from Bighorn or Wounded Knee instead of her kitchen” and if her husband was “dressed in full Indian garb.”
As many as 400 unarmed Native Americans, including many women and children, were slaughtered by U.S. soldiers during the 1890 Wounded Knee massacre.
“I have a great regard for the culture and history of Native Americans and Alaskans throughout our country,” Bernhardt responded.
After just one month of activity, the No Bull Bison account ended much as it started.
In its first post from the profile, the Interior Department lashed out at the left-leaning Center for American Progress over a report the group produced that found one-quarter of all new oil and gas leases approved by the department were within migration corridors for big game species like elk and mule deer ― habitats that the Trump administration had vowed to identify and better protect.
The post garnered a response from Kate Kelly, then CAP’s public lands director, who urged the administration to “use the best available science to review the potential impacts of your ‘energy dominance’ agenda.”
This week, Kelly was named a member of the Interior Department’s leadership team under Biden. She will serve as deputy chief of staff for policy.