On Thursday, President-elect Joe Biden nominated Representative Deb Haaland to serve as Secretary of the Interior. She will be the first Native American to serve in that role. Haaland will be a part of the Climate-Energy team, a group dedicated to environmental justice, climate protections, and community health.
News of Rep. Deb Haaland’s (D-N.M.) historic selection as Interior secretary has generated an emotional response from Native Americans eager to see representation in government.
If confirmed, Haaland will be the first Native American Cabinet secretary and the first Native American to helm the Department of the Interior, which has significant responsibilities to the nation’s 574 federally recognized tribes.
Haaland, a progressive, generated significant momentum for the position, backed by groups and lawmakers on the left as well as many tribes.
The significance hasn’t been lost on Haaland.
Haaland’s selection helps Biden fulfill his pledge to create a Cabinet that “looks like America.”
Biden was under increasing pressure to select Haaland over others candidates for the position, including Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), whose father ran the department in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations.
“It would not be right for two Udalls to lead the Department of the Interior, the agency tasked with managing the nation’s public lands, natural resources and trust responsibilities to tribes, before a single Native American,” NDN Collective, an indigenous rights group, wrote in a letter last week asking Udall to back Haaland for the role.
Udall, vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, congratulated Haaland on Thursday for securing the nod, calling it “a watershed moment for Native communities, and for our nation.”
“I am confident that she will be both a historic Interior Secretary and an excellent one. She will undo the damage of the Trump administration, restore the department’s workforce and expertise, uphold our obligations to Native communities, and take the bold action needed to tackle the accelerating climate and nature crises,” he said.
Haaland's nomination also comes after the Interior has been criticized for its role in serving Native Americans — concerns that far predate the Trump administration.
The department oversees the Bureau of Indian Education and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which helps provide law enforcement on reservations.
The department has been under pressure to do more to address an epidemic of missing and killed Native American women. Critics say the government has not done enough to try to solve their cold cases.