President-elect Joe Biden has promised to build the most diverse Cabinet we’ve ever seen, and his latest reported choice is the most groundbreaking one yet: On Wednesday, multiple outlets confirmed that Biden plans to nominate Representative Deb Haaland to lead the Department of the Interior. If confirmed, Haaland will be the first Native American Cabinet secretary in U.S. history.
Haaland, who hails from New Mexico and is a member of the Pueblo of Laguna, currently serves as Chair of the Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands. As Secretary of the Interior, she would oversee 500 million acres of land, including 422 national parks, 544 wildlife refuges, and more.
She would also oversee the Bureau of Indian Affairs, a federal agency within the department that works with leaders of tribal nations, manages natural resources, and protects assets belonging to Native Americans. And under her leadership, the Interior could begin the work of undoing the many atrocities of the Trump Administration — and those of the many administrations that came before.
“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,” Haaland said in a statement.
Under Trump's Interior, sacred tribal sites have lost protections, and expanses of land and water have been sold and turned into oil drilling sites. (Biden has pledged to ban new oil and gas drilling on public lands.) Haaland has criticized the Trump administration for destroying sacred sites and monuments, refusing to listen to tribal leaders, and disregarding centuries of violence enacted against Native Americans.
She also contrasted Trump’s Cabinet to former President Barack Obama’s. “While President Obama held Tribal Nations Summits every year of its presidency, there has been little to no formal interaction with the needs of tribes by this administration,” she said in February. “This administration, which is stacked with coal, gas, and oil insiders, has stopped important climate change research and actively promotes the denial of climate change and our need to move our country to a renewable energy economy.”
Haaland already made history as one of first two Native American women elected to Congress in 2018, and as Interior Secretary, she could do more than make history: she could set a new precedent and welcome a new era, one in which Native voices aren’t just heard but prioritized during conversations about Native American affairs and public lands. Over 130 tribal leaders wrote letters to Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris calling for Haaland’s nomination.
“The appointment of Deb Haaland is not only historic,” said Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez in a statement. “It also sends a clear message to all tribes and people across America that the Biden-Harris Administration is committed to addressing the wrongs of the past and clearing a path for real change and opportunity for tribal nations.”