President-elect Joe Biden has named Rep. Deb Haaland as his pick for Secretary of Interior Department. Haaland is a member of the Laguna Pueblo Tribe and she is the first person of Native American descent tapped for a position in the cabinet.
Many progressive groups and Native American tribes support Haaland. If the Senate confirms her position, she would take over an agency with 70,000 people. Many say that Haaland can turn things around in the agency with regard to enforcing environmental protections. The Interior Department has slowed down efforts in environmental conservation and protection in favor of expanding oil and gas drilling.
The agency has the mandate that the Biden administration would need if it wants to deliver on the president-elect’s promises regarding the environment. Biden has promised that he will ban new leasing on public lands for oil and gas drilling. To do so, he needs action from the Interior Department.
Haaland is also one of the first two women of Native American descent who were elected to Congress, with the other being Rep. Sharice Davids (D-Kan.). Many also know Haaland as an early supporter of the Green New Deal.
If confirmed, she will make history, not only because of her heritage; she would also be the first one of her descent to lead a department that has a significant responsibility to 1.9 million Native Americans in the country.
Reactions to the Haaland Nomination
Many have noted the historic nature of Biden’s choice.
“It’s momentous to see an Indian promoted out of the shadows of American history to a seat at the table in the White House,” noted Elizabeth Kronk Warner, who serves as the dean and as a professor of law at the University of Utah. Warner is also a member of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians. She added, “Tribes and the federal government have a relationship that goes back to the 18th century — but despite that relationship, we have never had an American Indian at this level of government.”
Meanwhile, Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), described it as “a mystical opportunity for this agency to do something historic.” Grijalva was initially backed by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus for the Interior Secretary position before Haaland was considered.
Haaland released a statement regarding the possibility of working with Biden. She said: “It would be an honor to move the Biden-Harris climate agenda forward, help repair the government-to-government relationship with Tribes that the Trump Administration has ruined, and serve as the first Native American cabinet secretary in our nation’s history.”
If confirmed for the position, she will lead a department that will handle around 500 million acres of land. This includes around 75 million acres of wilderness, as well as 422 national park sites.