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Deb Haaland Confirmed as the Country’s First Native American Secretary of the Interior

And the first Native American cabinet member, period.

Rep. Deb Haaland (D-NM), nominee for Secretary of the Interior, grins during her confirmation hearing

In a 51-40 vote, the Senate has confirmed Deb Haaland as the new Secretary of the Interior, making her the first Native American to hold the position–or any cabinet position, ever. When Haaland, a member of the Laguna Pueblo Nation in New Mexico, was elected to the House of Representatives in 2018, she was one of the first two Native American women to be elected to Congress, along with Kansas’s Sharice Davids who was elected the same year.

Haaland faced an uphill battle in the confirmation process. In the end, only four Republicans voted for her confirmation. Democrat (barely) Joe Manchin had threatened to derail her confirmation, saying that even after he met with Haaland via Zoom, he was still “undecided” and had “remaining questions” about her qualifications.

Fortunately, Haaland was confirmed. The importance of her role as the first Native American to hold the position is massive. The relationship between the Interior Department (and the federal government as a whole) and Indigenous people has, historically, been a terrible one. The Interior Department has been used as a cudgel to oppress Native tribes for centuries. In making sure the department works to serve all Americans, including the 574 federally recognized Native American and Alaska Native communities that have historically been so overlooked and tyrannized, the impact of her appointment cannot be overstated.

“Rep. Haaland will have an important task ahead of her. She must refocus the Interior Department on preserving and protecting almost 500 million acres of public lands, combating climate change and environmental degradation, and upholding the federal government’s obligation to tribal nations,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said ahead of Haaland’s confirmation vote.

“The Trump administration did more to undermine the relationship between the federal government and the sovereign tribes than many have in decades,” he continued, “from desecrating sacred burial sites to building a border wall to neglecting the desperate situation of Native tribes during the pandemic. Shame on them.

“In elevating Rep. Haaland to lead the Department of Interior, we reset the relationship between the federal government and tribal nations to one of cooperation, mutual respect and trust.”

(image: Sarah Silbiger-Pool/Getty Images)

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Vivian Kane (she/her) has a lot of opinions about a lot of things. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri with her husband Brock Wilbur and too many cats.