Deb Haaland has been tapped by President-Elect Joe Biden to head the Department of Interior. If confirmed, she would be the first Native American to lead the department, or hold any Cabinet position.
The New Mexico Democrat’s name had been widely circulated in recent weeks as a leading contender for the position – which oversees public lands and natural resources. The department also leads the Bureau of Indian Education and the Bureau of Indian Affairs – which is involved in law enforcement on reservations and in Native American trust land and trust assets issues.
“A voice like mine has never been a Cabinet secretary or at the head of the Department of Interior,” Haaland said on social media shortly after Biden’s Dec. 17 announcement. “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.”
Haaland, 60, is from the Pueblo of Laguna. She was one of two Native American women to be the first elected to the Congress in 2018. She was elected to the House of Representatives with Sharice Davids, a Democrat from Kansas. Both were reelected on Nov. 3.
Since arriving to the House, Haaland became known among progressives as a strong advocate for the climate and Indigenous rights. Prior to her first run for Congress, the single mother had joined the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline project.
Boosting Haaland’s resume for the Interior position was her service in Congress as the chair of the Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands and vice-chair of the Committee on Natural Resources. She led the subcommittee on Indigenous Peoples of the U.S. as well.
“This is an historic moment for Indian Country and represents significant progress in the evolution of our nation-to-nation relationship with the United States,” the United South & Eastern Tribes, which includes the Seminole Tribe, said in a statement. “The nomination of Congresswoman Haaland sends a powerful message to Tribal Nations and Native people – one of regard, honor, affirmation, and visibility.”