Activists Rejoice After Announcement Biden Will Nominate Deb Haaland for Interior

Haaland could become the first Native American secretary of Interior if confirmed. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

By Kimberly Lawson

December 17, 2020

“This is monumental, historic and she is the right choice to lead the Interior Dept at this time.”

President-elect Joe Biden plans to nominate New Mexico Rep. Deb Haaland as interior secretary, according to media reports.

If confirmed by the Senate, the historic pick would make her the first Native American to head the federal agency. She would be responsible for not only much of the nation’s vast public lands, waterways, wildlife, national parks, and mineral wealth, but also the well-being of 1.9 million Indigenous people. Moreover, she would also implement Biden’s environmental and climate change agenda.

Haaland, 60, is a member of the Laguna Pueblo and, as she likes to say, a 35th-generation resident of New Mexico. The pick breaks a 245-year record of non-Native officials, mostly male, serving as the very top federal official over American Indian affairs. The federal government often worked to dispossess them of their land and, until recently, to assimilate them into white culture.

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Activists and other supporters took to Twitter to share their excitement. For example, Sunrise Movement co-founder and executive director Varshini Prakash tweeted: “This will be the first time an Indigenous person – and a badass climate champion woman at that – will hold any presidential cabinet position.”

Haaland was one of the first two Native American women elected to the House. Tribal officials around the country and dozens of Democrats had written letters urging Haaland’s appointment.

Haaland is vice chair of the House Committee for Natural Resources. She previously worked as head of New Mexico’s Democratic Party, as tribal administrator and as an administrator for an organization providing services for adults with developmental disabilities.

Born to a Marine veteran father and Navy veteran mother, Haaland describes herself as a single mother who sometimes had to rely on food stamps. She told the Associated Press she is still paying off student loans after college and law school for herself and college for her daughter.

When Democrats mentioned former Interior Department officials who were male and Native American as alternatives to Haaland, her supporters charged sexism and classism, and stuck with the New Mexico Democrat.

Haaland told the AP before her selection that regardless of what job she had, she’d be working to “promote clean energy and protect our public lands.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

READ MORE: ‘New Era of Climate Accountability Is Upon Us’: Biden’s Climate Pick Pleases Environmental Groups


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