President-elect Joe Biden Thursday chose Rep. Deb Haaland to serve as the first Native American interior secretary.
“It would be an honour 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,” Ms Haaland said in a statement quoted in the New York Times.
If confirmed, Congresswoman Deb Haaland will be the first indigenous person to lead the department.
As secretary of the interior, Ms Haaland would play a key role in implementing the administration’s environmental policies.
This historic pick marks a turning point in the relationship between the U.S. government and the nation’s Indigenous peoples.
Speaker of the House of Representatives Democrat Nancy Pelosi described Ms Haaland as one of the most respected members of Congress.
Native rights groups and progressive Democrats had given strong backings for the New Mexico lawmaker’s nomination in recent weeks. Joining the call for her endorsements, more than 120 tribal leaders joined a petition from the Lakota People’s Law Action Center to back Ms Haaland. Celebrities and environmental activists also called for the president-elect to choose her.
Ms Haaland, 60, a member of the Laguna Pueblo tribe made history as one of the first two Native American women ever elected to Congress in 2018.
Fellow progressive Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez praised her nomination as “historic on multiple levels”.
“She brings a commitment to climate and justice to the position, and the historic weight of having a Native woman, no less a progressive one, in charge of federal lands is enormous.”
The vice president of policy and strategy for the progressive think tank Data for Progress, Julian Brave NoiseCat, praised the President-elect’s pick.
“We see our moms, our aunties and ourselves in Deb — and now we’re putting our greatest hopes as a people in her leadership. After four years of fossil fuel executives and lobbyists opening up Native lands and sacred sites to industry, the next Secretary of Interior will be a Laguna Pueblo woman who went to Standing Rock in 2016 and cooked for the people,” NoiseCat, a progressive Native activist, said in a statement.
Ms Haaland is well versed on the House Natural Resources Committee. Haaland was picked for the role, in part, because she is someone who has “spent her career fighting for all Americans, including tribal nations, rural communities, and communities of color,” according to a person familiar with the decision.
The US Department of the Interior conserves and manages the nation’s natural resources and cultural heritage, as well as oversees the federal government’s relationships with Native American tribes.