JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — A Short, Sweet, Norwegian Celebration

Three groups have been cheering the appointment of Debra Haaland as President Biden’s Secretary of Interior.

  • WOMEN. Although 21st century presidents have done better, over the years, probably only about 10 percent of all Cabinet secretaries have been women — I think I read somewhere the total is about 30 since we became a country — so when a woman gets a job in a presidential Cabinet, it is still a big deal.
  • NATIVE AMERICANS. Haaland is the first Native American to serve in a presidential Cabinet, and this is an even bigger deal because Interior is the Cabinet agency that deals with Native American issues.
  • ENVIRONMENTALISTS. The agency that manages about one-fifth of all the land in American is now being headed by someone who really cares about public land and the critters who live on it, after four years of little oversight by a puppet of the U.S. energy industry, whose singular goal was to give control of all our public land to the coal, oil and timber industries.

Add now, I’m pleased to announce, a fourth group: NORWEGIAN AMERICANS.

I just learned this morning, after some research sparked by a short story in Fargo’s newspaper, The Forum, some really big news: Secretary Haaland is half-Norwegian.

Until now, much has been made of the fact that Haaland is a member of the Pueblo of Laguna, a Native American tribe in New Mexico. She says she’s a “35th-generation” New Mexican (a number she just pulled out of the air for effect, I’m sure, but probably pretty close to true), and it’s true, she was born in New Mexico. Her mother, Mary Toya, was a member of the Pueblo tribe and met her father while she was serving as a U.S. Navy WAVE.

Her father was Maj. John David “Dutch” Haaland, a 30-year combat Marine officer and Vietnam War hero. He was born in New London, Minn., to Conrad and Gunhild (Jacobsen) Haaland, first-generation Americans. Conrad, Debra’s great- grandfather, was the son of Thor Peterson Haaland and Johanna Marie Aslaksdotter (Hoynes) Haaland. Thor was born in Kvitsoy, Rogaland, Norway, in 1854. So, in addition to Secretary Haaland being a 35th generation New Mexican on her mother’s side, she and her four siblings are also third-generation Norwegian-Americans on her father’s side.

Secretary Haaland is a graduate of the University of New Mexico School of Law, but a career as an activist and tribal advocate got in the way of a legal career and she never practiced law. She never married and is a single mom whose daughter, Somah, is an actress in New York.

Incidentally, her father’s nickname, Dutch, probably came about because the pronunciation of Haaland is the same as the country Holland. But there’s no Dutch ancestry that I could find.

I’ve been wondering about Secretary Haaland’s roots since I first heard her name mentioned as a possible cabinet appointee. Up here where we live, names that contain “aa” are usually Scandinavian in origin, mainly Norwegian. But she surely didn’t look Scandinavian. I didn’t give it much thought, though, other than the spelling might have also been peculiar to some Native tribes in the Southwest. Wrong. Pure Norwegian.

And so, as a proud fellow third-generation Norwegian American, I am part of that fourth group that’s cheering the appointment of Debra Haaland as U.S. Secretary of the Interior. Oh, and I’m part of that third group, too.

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