Senate Confirms First Native American Cabinet Member, Deb Haaland as Interior Secretary

Sophie Hirsh - Author

Mar. 16 2021, Published 11:06 a.m. ET

Deb Haaland
Source: Getty Images

Three months after news of her nomination broke, Rep. Deb Haaland has been confirmed as the Secretary of the Interior, under President Joe Biden’s administration. Haaland’s confirmation is history-making, as she will become the first Native American to ever hold a presidential Cabinet position.

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The Senate voted to confirm Haaland 51-40 on Monday, March 15. According to The Guardian, four Republican senators voted in favor of Haaland: Susan Collins, Lindsey Graham, Lisa Murkowski, and Dan Sullivan.

deb haaland
Source: Getty Images
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Haaland is a member of the Laguna Pueblo Native American people, and a Congresswoman representing New Mexico. Making history is not new to Haaland — when she was elected to Congress in 2018, she became one of the first two Native American women to be voted into Congress, along with Rep. Sharice Davids of Kansas.

Thank you to the U.S. Senate for your confirmation vote today. As Secretary of the Interior, I look forward to collaborating with all of you. I am ready to serve,” Haaland tweeted after the vote. She also added the hashtag #BeFierce to her tweet.

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As head of the Department of the Interior, Haaland will be at the helm of federal land conservation. The Interior manages dozens of bureaus and offices, including the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the National Park Service, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

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The U.S. was built by colonists stealing land from Native Americans centuries ago; since then, the Interior has continued to disrespect sacred Indigenous lands and ignore the rights of Native Americans. It’s monumental that a Native American lawmaker will finally hold a Cabinet position — especially one that manages the protection of U.S. lands.

Over the past few weeks, Haaland took to Twitter on several occasions to make some promises about how she would serve the country as Interior Secretary. 

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I vow to lead the Interior Department ethically, and with honor and integrity. I will listen to and work with members of Congress on both sides of the aisle. I will support the Interior’s public servants and be a careful steward of taxpayer dollars,” she wrote. “I will ensure that the Interior Department’s decisions are based on science. I will honor the sovereignty of Tribal nations and recognize their part in America’s story. And I will be a fierce advocate for our public lands.”

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Haaland also promised that under her leadership, the Interior “will listen to every community,” and work to “tackle the challenges our country faces so we can #BuildBackBetter.”

Many of the challenges the department currently faces are due to rollbacks instituted by the last president’s administration. Trump’s Interior was managed by Ryan Zinke for the first two years, followed by David Bernhardt, a former oil industry lobbyist. Both men approved many polluting projects during their time in office — for instance, Zinke reversed various Obama-era regulations, and Bernhardt signed off on an oil-drilling scheme in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Environmentalists can count on Haaland to reverse many of the rules that Trump’s Interior Department implemented over the last four years. As reported by The New York Times, Haaland is supposedly going to immediately put an end to new oil drilling contracts, restore various conservation laws, expand federal renewable energy generation, and more.

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