Deb Haaland
U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland; (photo/Romie Miller)

Deb Haaland Poised to Be First Indigenous American to Lead Interior

President-Elect Joe Biden named Rep. Deb Haaland to pilot the Department of the Interior. If confirmed by the Senate, Haaland will become the first Indigenous leader of the department.

Making good on a promise to diversify his cabinet, President-Elect Joe Biden announced that he will name Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) as Secretary of the Interior.

If confirmed by the Senate, Haaland would become the first Native American, and only the third woman, to take the post. She would also be the first Native American to ever hold a position in the Cabinet. Haaland was one of a few Native leaders being considered for the position. Biden also considered Michael Connor, a citizen of the Taos Pueblo Tribe and the former Deputy Secretary of the Interior from 2014-2017.

Deb Haaland: Biden’s Secretary of the Interior

Deb Haaland, Secretary of the Interior
Jan. 28, 2020: U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland town hall meeting at the main library to discuss issues of concern to 1st district residents; photo credit: Romie Miller

Rep. Deb Haaland is a 35th-generation New Mexican and an enrolled citizen of the Laguna Pueblo people. One of two Indigenous women ever elected to Congress, Haaland has represented New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District since 2019. There, she served as Chair of the Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands. She also served as Vice-Chair for the Committee on Natural Resources.

Before her time in Congress, Haaland ran for Lt. Governor of New Mexico in 2014 and served as chairwoman for the Democratic Party of New Mexico. She worked to promote Earth-friendly practices in the tribal gaming sector, and she also served in tribal administration.

In addition to its land, water, and wildlife stewardship role, the Department of the Interior oversees the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Bureau of Indian Education. Still, the 171-year-old department has an ignominious history that includes breaking tribal treaties, sending Native children to assimilating boarding schools, and forcing Indigenous groups off Native lands.

Native Voices Speak on Haaland Nomination

A plethora of Native groups, Democratic representatives in the House, well-known celebrities, and progressive environmental groups backed Indigenous leaders for the Department of the Interior, with Haaland at the forefront. And ample letters, social media pressure, and press pushed Biden toward the pick.

“It’s an incredible step to have a Native woman run the agency who oversees the management of public and tribal lands,” said Dr. Len Necefer, CEO of NativesOutdoors. “Hopefully, it will be the first step toward honoring treaty obligations and honoring the trust-responsibility agreement that the federal government has with Native nations.”

“We congratulate Rep. Haaland on this historic appointment. Today is more than history-making. Haaland’s appointment gives us a voice in a Department that has long been responsible for our exploitation,” said Nick Tilsen, CEO and president of the NDN Collective, in a statement shared on the group’s Instagram page.

“As Secretary of the Department of the Interior, she will have the power to stand up to the corporations who have been influencing the Department for generations and causing the destruction of Indigenous lands.”

Nicole Qualtieri

Based in Montana, Nicole Qualtieri is GearJunkie's Hunt + Fish Editor. She also serves as a Board Director for Orion the Hunters Insititute, a non-profit promoting fair chase and hunting ethics nationwide. A DIY hunter, she comes from a non-traditional hunting background and began hunting and fishing in her 30s. She's been a voice for hunting, fishing, and conservation since 2014, when she got started working on the television show MeatEater. She's an avid horsewoman, bird dog aficionado, snowboarder, hiker/backpacker, food nerd, and all-around outdoorswoman. Find her online at @nkqualtieri.