Rep. Deb Haaland Makes History as Interior Secretary Nominee: “I’ll Be Fierce for All of Us”

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In his newest round of Cabinet nominations, President-Elect Joe Biden tapped Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) as the first Indigenous secretary of the interior. Haaland, who currently serves as vice chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources, would also be the first Native American to ever hold a secretary position in the Cabinet. 

She spoke alongside fellow climate and energy appointees on Saturday, Dec. 19, promising to “be fierce for all of us, for our planet and all of our protected land”:

Haaland began her remarks by honoring her Pueblo heritage, as well as the Lenape tribal land on which she stood.

“Growing up in my mother’s Pueblo household made me fierce. My life has not been easy. I struggled with homelessness. I relied on food stamps and raised my child as a single mom. These struggles give me perspectives, though, so that I can help people to succeed. My grandparents, who were taken away from their families as children and sent to boarding school in an effort to destroy their traditions and identities, maintained our culture,” Haaland said.

Haaland proceeded to highlight climate change as a key challenge she will face as Interior Secretary, imploring other departments to join her in addressing the ongoing crisis:

“Coming together in a common purpose, this country can and will tackle this challenge. The president-elect and vice president-elect know that issues under Interior’s jurisdiction aren’t simply about conservation. They’re woven in with justice, good jobs and closing the racial, wealth and health gaps,” Haaland said.

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Beyond representing New Mexico’s First District in the House and serving vice chair of the Committee on Natural Resources, Haaland is vice chair of the Democratic Women’s Caucus and deputy whip for the Congressional Progressive Caucus. 

She previously worked in environmental advocacy, specifically pitching the importance of sustainability in businesses. She was also chairwoman of the New Mexico Democratic Party, making her the first Native person to be elected to lead a party in any state. Haaland is the daughter of Navy and Marine veterans, and serves as honorary commander of Kirtland Air Force Base.

“As the first Native American Cabinet secretary in the history of the United States of America, she’ll be a true steward of our national parks, our natural resources, and all of our lands. The federal government has long broken promises to Native American tribes, who’ve been on this land since time immemorial,” Biden said. “With her appointment, Congresswoman Haaland will help me strengthen the nation-to-nation relationship, and I’m honored she’s been willing when I called her to accept this critical role.”

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Sophie Dorf-Kamienny is a junior at Tufts University studying sociology and community health. She is a Ms. contributing writer, and was formerly an editorial fellow, research fellow and assistant editor of social media. You can find her on Twitter at @sophie_dk_.