Last week, the U.S. Senate confirmed former Rep. Deb Haaland (D-NM) to serve as President Joe Biden’s Secretary of the Interior, adding a strong voice for conservation of public lands and fair treatment for indigenous Americans to the administration. Remarkably, she is the first Native American to serve in a Cabinet in the American republic’s 230-year history. She was then quickly sworn in by Kamala Harris, the first Black and first Indian-American vice president.
Haaland received unified Democratic support and the votes of four Republican senators, including both from Alaska, where Native peoples represent a substantial share of the state’s voters. In her straightforward opposition to the fossil fuel industry’s abusive exploitation of public lands under the Trump Administration, Haaland drew the ire of most Republican senators. In what was widely viewed as a racist, sexist double standard, opposing senators attacked Haaland as a proxy for the Biden Administration policy of reining in that exploitation, while other Cabinet nominees who will be implementing the same policy escaped with milder challenges. This held up Haaland’s confirmation longer than originally expected.
Haaland is a member of the Laguna Pueblo, and was a one-term U.S. House member. “It is long past time that an American Indian serve as the secretary of the Interior,” said Fawn Sharp, president of the National Congress of American Indians, the nation’s oldest and largest tribal organization. “The nation needs her leadership and vision to help lead our response to climate change, to steward our lands and cultural resources and to ensure that across the federal government, the United States lives up to its trust and treaty obligations to tribal nations and our citizens.”
“Congratulations to Secretary Deb Haaland on her well-deserved and historic confirmation! The significance of having an Indigenous woman lead the critical work of protecting our public lands cannot be overstated,” said Tiernan Sittenfeld, Senior Vice President of Government Affairs for the League of Conservation Voters (LCV). “We are thrilled for Secretary Haaland to lead the Department of Interior and implement a bold agenda based on science, equity, and environmental justice. Secretary Haaland will prioritize access to nature, tribal consultation, and responsible management of our public lands and resources for all people in this country — she will make a truly excellent addition to the growing Biden administration.”