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Biden nominates Deb Haaland as first Native American interior secretary

The choice signals a major step forward for Native American representation in government.


President-Elect Joe Biden has tapped New Mexico representative Deb Haaland to lead the Interior Department, a move announced Thursday afternoon. If the Senate confirms her nomination, Haaland would become the first Native American to lead the department—and the first to hold a cabinet position of any kind.

As interior secretary, the first-term congresswoman would oversee large swaths of the nation’s public lands, all of its national park sites, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which itself oversees 55,700,000 acres of land held in trust by the U.S. government for Native American tribes.

Last month, dozens of lawmakers sent a letter to Biden urging him to pick Haaland for the position, noting her “significant experience working and living in Indian Country,” serving Native communities “as a tribal administrator and an organizer fighting for tribal voting rights.”

A member of the Laguna Pueblo people, Haaland became one of the first two female Native Americans elected to Congress just two years ago, in 2018. She represents New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District, which includes most of Albuquerque, and chairs the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands.

In a statement issued yesterday, before Biden officially announced his nomination, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi expressed support for the decision.

“Congresswoman Haaland knows the territory,” Pelosi said. “If she is the President-elect’s choice for interior secretary, then he will have made an excellent choice.”

[Editor’s Note: Several weeks ago, we interviewed Haaland for the next issue of The Voice, which ships in just a couple weeks. If you haven’t subscribed yet, make sure you reserve your copy before the issue heads to the printer.]