Deb Haaland Makes History As First Native American Cabinet Secretary

by Christina Marfice
Deb Haaland/Twitter

Joe Biden has chosen Rep. Deb Haaland to be his Secretary of the Interior, making her one of the highest ranking Native Americans in U.S. political history

President-elect Joe Biden is still hard at work naming appointments to advisory roles and cabinet positions for his future White House. So far, he’s filled seats with an unprecedented number of diverse voices, nominating women and BIPOC people to roles they’ve never been represented in before. The latest of those is Rep. Deb Haaland, whom Biden has chosen to lead the Department of the Interior. If confirmed by the Senate, she’ll be the first Native American to ever hold that role — or any cabinet secretary position.

“A voice like mine has never been a Cabinet secretary or at the head of the Department of Interior,” Haaland wrote on Twitter when news of her nomination was made public. “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 has represented New Mexico in the House of Representatives since last year. She’s a 35th-generation resident of the state, and a member of the Pueblo Laguna. Before being elected to Congress, she served as the first Native American leader of a state party in New Mexico.

One important detail is easy to miss in celebrating Haaland’s groundbreaking nomination: If confirmed, she’ll oversee the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which sits under the Interior Department. She will be the first Native American ever to oversee the Bureau of Indian Affairs. It’s a little bit shocking that it took until 2020 for that to happen, but it’s truly about time. Here’s hoping that Haaland’s nomination is only the first time a Native sits in this seat.

WASHINGTON, DC – JUNE 29: U.S. Rep. Debra Haaland (D-NM) attends a House Natural Resources Committee hearing examining Park Police response to Lafayette Square protests on June 29, 2020 in Washington, D.C. Amid protests of the death of George Floyd, authorities in D.C cleared the largely peaceful crowd gathered in Lafayette Square on June 1 prior to President Donald Trump’s walk across the park for a photo op at St. John’s Church. (Photo by Bonnie Cash-Pool/Getty Images)

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As Secretary of the Interior, Haaland would also oversee millions of acres of public lands, including national parks and monuments and wildlife refuges. Her appointment seems to signal a major shift from Trump administration priorities for the department, which focused on fossil fuel extraction over preservation.

“Rep. Haaland’s historic appointment means a new era for protection for our wildlife, public lands and waters from the rapacious extractive industries that have ruled the day under the Trump administration,” Kierán Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. “It’s critical for Native American leaders to be part of all decision-making about public lands, and Haaland’s appointment will ensure that.”

Haaland was one of six appointments that the Biden transition team announced Thursday.

“This brilliant, tested, trailblazing team will be ready on day one to confront the existential threat of climate change with a unified national response rooted in science and equity,” the campaign said in a statement. “They share my belief that we have no time to waste to confront the climate crisis, protect our air and drinking water, and deliver justice to communities that have long shouldered the burdens of environmental harms.”