Deb Haaland Makes History By Becoming First Native American Cabinet Secretary

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Photo courtesy of Navajo-Hopi Observer.

From the Navajo Nation to the Oglala Lakota, members of the 567 Native American tribes in the U.S. saw in real-time the arrival of one of their own to one of the highest positions in the federal government for the first time in history.

Last Monday, the Senate voted 51-40 to confirm Rep. Deb Haaland, a member of the Laguna Pueblo Tribe, as President Biden’s secretary of the Interior Department.

Having been one of the first two Native American women to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2018, along with Rep. Sharice Davids, Haaland now marks a historic milestone for her community.

“A voice like mine has never been a Cabinet secretary or at the head of the Department of Interior,” Haaland wrote on Twitter. “Growing up in my mother’s Pueblo household made me fierce. I’ll be fierce for all of us, our planet, and all of our protected land. I am honored and ready to serve.”

As The Hill explained, Haaland will play a key role in Biden’s energy and climate plan, one of his bellwether pillars, as he will head the agency that manages and maintains the nation’s public lands, including national parks, oil and gas drilling sites, and wildlife.

Definitely, her confirmation is one of the most symbolic in the post-Trump era.

She told senators during her confirmation hearing that while “fossil energy does and will continue to play a major role in America for years to come,” she supports Biden’s focus on moving toward a clean energy future.

Although her opposition to hydraulic fracturing and drilling on federal lands has been strongly criticized by Republicans, who argue that these measures could cost thousands of jobs, Haaland responded that “America’s public lands can and should be engines for clean energy production” and that a clean energy transition “has the potential to spur job creation.”

Haaland is a former chair of the New Mexico Native American Caucus, identifies as a member of the Laguna Pueblo tribe, and is a 35th generation New Mexico resident.

Her arrival at the Interior Department positions her as the first Native American to head relations between the U.S. government and Native American and Alaska Native tribes.

According to NPR, Haaland’s confirmation is as symbolic as it is historic. For much of its history, the Interior Department was used as a tool of oppression against Native American peoples. In addition to managing the nation’s public lands, endangered species, and natural resources, the department is also responsible for relations between the U.S. government and Native American tribes.

“Indian country has shouted from the valleys, from the mountaintops, that it’s time. It’s overdue,” Sandia Pueblo tribal member Stephine Poston told NPR after Haaland was nominated.