An historic moment for Native American people, Laguna Pueblo woman Deb Haaland is the first Native American person to be confirmed as secretary of a Cabinet agency in the United States.
The US Senate voted in favour of the Democrat to lead the Interior Department on Monday. Haaland was nominated by President Joe Biden in December 2020 and is now responsible for the management of almost one third of America’s land mass, including tribal lands.
Haaland now oversees the Bureau of Land Management, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Addressing the media, the newly confirmed Cabinet secretary spoke of the historic confirmation.
“The historical nature of my confirmation is not lost on me,” she said.
“I hope this nomination would be an inspiration for Americans moving forward together as one nation and creating opportunities for all of us.”’
Haaland’s sisters, Denise Kirksey and Zoe Magee praised their sister in a virtual event hosted by Native American organisations.
“Debra is smart and she has a heart of gold. She’s the hardest worker I know and the most unselfish person I know,” said Magee.
“Things are going to start rocking and rolling, and there’s just going to be no stopping my sister. There’s just not,” added Kirksey.
Dr Elizabeth Rule from the Chickasaw Nation and Director of the AT&T Centre for Indigenous Politics and Policy praised the example Haaland has made for other young Indigenous women.
“It is inspiration for other Native women like me who seek to be changemakers in our own communities. To have that representation at the nation level,” Dr Rule told Al Jazeera.
“Haaland has a track record of really advocating for communities who have a track record of being disproportionally affected by the disasters and devastation that climate change causes. And of course, [she] has the experience necessary to come into this position and really speak with the President and shape policy.”
I believe we all have a stake in the future of our country, and that everyone shares a common bond: our love for the outdoors and a desire and obligation to keep our nation livable for future generations. Thank you to the Senate ENR Committee for their vote of confidence today. https://t.co/PViY0wc16Q
— Deb Haaland (@DebHaalandNM) March 4, 2021
Praises are being sent from various Native American organisations across the country, congratulating Haaland on her confirmation.
“Represent all of Indian Country — very hard thing for one person to do, and I’m just really proud of her and how she’s carried that and been willing to step into that role,” said Leonard Forsman, Chair of the Suquamish Tribe of Washington.
Mark Masters from the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma said Haaland’s confirmation was “amazing”.
“To have someone not just on the Cabinet itself who is Native but also have someone in such a crucial position who’s responsible for managing those trust relationships with tribes and the vast amounts of cultural and natural resources is unprecedented,” said Masters.
New Mexico’s Pueblo of Acoma also thanked Haaland in a statement.
“Dawaee (thank you), Secretary Haaland, for setting a strong example for every Native American, every child and all the women and girls, that even the biggest dreams and the greatest inspirations can be achieved.
“There’s a bright future for people of every race, religion and culture because of today’s momentous confirmation of Secretary Debra Haaland. Be Fierce!”
Praise for Haaland’s confirmation has also come in from the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the US’ largest and oldest Hispanic organisation.
“It is hard to believe that it has taken us this long as a country to do the right thing in naming a Native American to serve in a presidential cabinet. Secretary Haaland has earned the respect of the people of New Mexico and elsewhere as a strong and honest leader,” LULAC National President Domingo Garcia said in a statement.
“She speaks truthfully and with courage in defending the natural treasures of the lands that were once home to her Ancestors. Yet, she is also fair and understands that we are a country rich with resources.
“LULAC looks forward to working with her as she strives to strike a balance between our economic needs and our duty as stewards.”
By Rachael Knowles