By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
One Feather Staff
Congresswoman Deb Haaland (D-N.M.), a member of the Laguna Pueblo, was confirmed as Secretary of the Dept. of the Interior on Monday, March 15. She was confirmed by a Senate vote of 51-40 and becomes the first Native American to serve in a cabinet-level position in U.S. history.
“A voice like mine has never been a cabinet secretary or at the head of the Department of the Interior,” Secretary Haaland tweeted. “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.”
Secretary Haaland, along with Congresswoman Sharice Davids (D-Kansas), was one of the first two Native American women elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2018. She was recently re-elected to her seat. Secretary Haaland earned a bachelor of arts degree in english from the University of New Mexico (UNM) in 1994 and a Juris Doctor degree from the UNM School of Law in 2006.
During her tenure in the House of Representatives, she served in numerous capacities including: Committee on Natural Resources (vice chair); Subcommittee on Indigenous Peoples of the United States; Committee on Armed Services; Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands (chair); Committee on Oversight and Reform; Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties; Congressional Native American Caucus (co-chair); and Congressional Progressive Caucus.
Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed commented on the historic confirmation. “The confirmation of Deb Haaland to serve as Secretary of the Interior is a truly historic moment, and I have no doubt our ancestors are looking down upon us with a smile at how far we’ve come since the days of their sacrifices. Not only will Secretary Haaland be the first Native American cabinet secretary, but we have no doubt that she will be an effective and successful administrator of the Department of the Interior. We look forward to working with Secretary Haaland on matters that affect not only the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians but all Native Americans as well.”
Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said in a statement, “Secretary Haaland is a trailblazer, and it is only fitting that she has now become the first Native American to oversee the federal policies that have such monumental impacts on the more than 570 federally recognized tribal nations across the United States, including the Cherokee Nation. Secretary Haaland has always been a champion of tribal sovereignty, and I expect her contributions to tribal nations will leave an impact that will be felt by Native peoples for the next seven generations.”
The confirmation voting went along party lines for the most part. Of the 51 votes in favor of her confirmation, 45 votes were from Democrats, four from Republicans, and two from Independents. All 40 of the votes against Secretary Haaland were from Republican Senators. A total of four Republican Senators did vote to confirm including: Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) who serves as vice chair of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, and Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska).
Sen. Sullivan called the vote the “most difficult” he has had while serving in the Senate and said in a statement, “As a Congresswoman, Haaland took positions publicly – cosponsoring the Green New Deal, prohibiting all gas and oil leasing on federal lands, and displaying hostility toward Alaska Native people and systems just because they are different from the lower 48 model she is familiar with – that I believe would clearly negatively impact Alaska and America. In normal times, this would be an easy ‘no’ vote.”
He continued, “But, these are not normal times. Our state’s economy and our working families are under pressure, stress, and assault due to the pandemic and the Biden administration’s initial hostile actions against Alaska and our resources development sector. I believe that my vote to confirm Congresswoman Haaland as Secretary of the Interior may enhance my ability to successfully advocate for a ceasefire in the Biden administration’s war on the Alaskan economy and working families. We need all the help we can get, particularly from the head of an agency, the Department of the Interior, that wields enormous power over our state and our economy.”
Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawai’i) serves as chair of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs and said in a statement, “Her leadership on public lands and waters, natural resources management, and climate action as well as her deep connections to Native communities will benefit all Americans. It’s clear Secretary Haaland shares my commitment to consultation with Native leaders to address the real challenges facing Native communities across the country.”
Congressman Raul M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) serves as chair of the House Natural Resources Committee and said in a statement, “The confirmation of Secretary Deb Haaland is a historic step toward redeeming our nation’s relationship with first Americans. Secretary Haaland will bring to the Interior Department and the Biden administration a profound responsibility and commitment to climate change, equity, and public actions that all Americans will benefit from. Secretary Haaland has made history for her people, and now she will help guide our shared history.”
The news traveled fast throughout Indian Country.
Fawn Sharp, National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) president, said in a statement, “The impact of Native American representation at the top of a federal agency that so directly affects our daily lives cannot be overstated, and we congratulate Secretary Haaland on this historic achievement. The relationship between tribal nations and the federal government has been fractured for far too long. Having an ally like Secretary Haaland who is not only deeply qualified but is from our communities has the potential to transform the government-to-government relationship and will be vital in advancing Native American issues for generations.”
Several conservation groups lauded the confirmation.
“Secretary Haaland is a fierce advocate for the protection of our parks, sacred landscapes, and the environment,” Theresa Pierson, National Parks Conservation Association president and chief executive officer, said in a statement. “As a descendant of the original guardians of our lands, she brings a unique perspective, unlike any Interior Secretary before her. She has vowed to elevate and engage underrepresented communities with an eye towards rebuilding the agency and the public lands it protects.”
Secretary Haaland’s confirmation was contested by many in the Republican Party.
Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) tweeted, “I voted against Rep. Haaland’s confirmation to the Interior because I cannot support her hostile record toward made in America energy, natural resource development, and wildlife and land management. Rep. Haaland has pledged to learn from states like Montana that are able to balance these priorities. I will hold her to this commitment and look for opportunities where we can pragmatically work together on behalf of Montana.”
Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) tweeted, “Rep. Haaland’s extreme policy views, lack of substantive answers during the confirmation process, and full support for (@POTUS) war on American energy disqualify her for the job of Interior Secretary. Her views on American energy fly in the face of the mission of the Interior. I oppose her nomination and will continue to fight to protect America’s energy workers and energy dominance.”
The Department of the Interior, created on March 3, 1849, manages most of the public lands and resources of the United States and includes such agencies as the National Park Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and others.
Secretary Haaland resigned her congressional seat on Tuesday, March 16. According to New Mexico law, a general election to fill that seat must be held between 77 and 91 days of the vacancy. There will be no primary election, and the state’s party committees will select candidates for the general election.