Introducing Deb Haaland

Native America Gets it First Cabinet Nominee

On December 17, 2020, President Joe Biden’s transition team announced New Mexico Congresswoman Debra Haaland as Biden’s pick for Secretary of the Interior. Haaland, a member of Laguna Pueblo, would be the first indigenous person to hold a cabinet position, as well as only the second female head of Interior. Her appointment is a landmark accomplishment for Native Americans in a department that has historically been responsible for many of the injustices perpetrated against them by the United States Government. However, despite the historical importance of her appointment, some congressional Republicans have opposed her appointment because of her support of the Green New Deal.

Haaland was elected to the House of Representatives in 2018, filling the spot left open in New Mexico’s First Congressional District by Michelle Lujan Grisham when she became Governor. Haaland grew up in a military family, moving around a lot before attending law school at the University of New Mexico. She is a member of Laguna Pueblo, one of 23 registered tribes in New Mexico. Haaland worked as a volunteer on many political campaigns in New Mexico before running for Lieutenant Governor of the state in 2014. Although she lost, it was her first formal introduction to politics, and she would follow up the run by becoming chair of the Democratic Party of New Mexico in 2014. This made her the first Native American woman to be elected to lead a state party.

During her time in the House of Representatives, Haaland has participated in several committees and subcommittees devoted to the environment and natural resources. She is Vice Chair of the Committee on Natural Resources, as well as Chair of the Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands. Her responsibilities on these committees are ones that overlap with those of the Secretary of Interior.

As Secretary of the Interior, Haaland will head a massive department that oversees America’s national parks, wildlife refuges, the US Geological Survey, the Bureau of Land Management (which oversees Tribal lands), and, most importantly for Haaland, the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The Bureau of Indian Affairs has historically been responsible for some of the many crimes perpetrated by the US government against Native Americans, including forced assimilation through boarding schools, which occurred during the late 19th and mid 20th centuries. Haaland has been open about the trauma experienced in her own family due to these boarding schools, as her grandmother was forced to attend one. Haaland would be in a position to address problems on reservations such as a lack of education, healthcare, and infrastructure.

However, some Republicans are opposing her confirmation.,On January 26th, fifteen House Republicans, led by Representative Pete Stauber from Minnesota, signed a letter addressed to Biden, opposing Haaland’s confirmation mainly on the grounds of her support of the Green New Deal. The Green New Deal, which aims to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, has long been criticized by Republicans. Stauber cites concern for the people of his district and people across the country who work in mining and other industries that may be threatened by the Green New Deal. By opposing her nomination, Stauber and his fellow signatories have ignored the opinions of their tribal constituents, who maintain that Haaland’s nomination is long overdue. Though Stauber and other House Republicans can make a lot of noise, they are unlikely to succeed in their quest. Cabinet nominees need only a simple majority in the Senate for confirmation, meaning that, with the Democrats’ control of 50 seats and Vice President Harris’s tie-breaking vote, Senate Democrats should be able to ensure Haaland’s future position. Republicans can try to slow it down, but they’ll only gain animosity from their Native American constituents and waste valuable time that could be used to pass legislation that would help Americans during the pandemic.

It’s not known when Haaland’s confirmation hearing will take place. Several of Biden’s cabinet picks have been delayed by the senate, with Ted Cruz placing a block on Gina Raimondo, Biden’s nominee for Commerce Secretary. However, blocks like these can be overruled by the senate, and it is unlikely that they’ll have a real effect on Haaland’s confirmation. Most cabinet nominations are confirmed within the first 100 days of a new presidency, so Haaland will be making history as the first Native American Secretary of Interior by summer, working to right the many wrongs perpetrated by the United States Federal Government against her people.