President-elect Joe Biden has already unveiled a historic slate of cabinet appointees, including the first Latino head of the Department of Homeland Security and the first woman to head the intelligence community and — potentially — the first woman to lead the Treasury as well.
But political pundits are already clamoring over the next potential appointee: Rep. Debra Haaland of New Mexico’s first district, who — if chosen and confirmed — would be the first Native American to lead the Interior Department.
“Representative Deb Haaland is eminently qualified to be Interior Secretary. She has been a champion for our environment and public lands and has worked tirelessly to improve the nation-to-nation relationship between the United States and Indian tribes,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to a transition team reported by the Hill, noting an opportunity to “make history by giving Native Americans a seat at the Cabinet table for the first time.”
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The United States Secretary of the Interior is responsible for the management and conservation of most federal land and natural resources, overseeing everything from parks to reservations. And the current administration’s delay in certifying the election already poses a risk to Native Americans dependent on federal services, Sen. Tom Udall said in a letter obtained by the Hill.
Still, the push isn’t merely political. The Lakota People’s Law Project, a social justice organization, started a petition supported by more than 120 tribal leaders in favor of appointing Haaland.
“Naming a Native American to lead the Department of the Interior honors the sacrifice Native tribes have made for the growth of our country, as well as rewards them for their participation in our democracy,” reads a Change.org petition started by advocates Patrick Manning and Sianna Lieb, with nearly 30,000 signatures. “Most importantly, it provides this important leadership role to a group that culturally is best suited to protect our natural resources in a sustainable and honorable manner.”
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And the sentiment seems to be catching on. Seventy one percent of Native people in a recent survey by nonprofit IllumiNative said appointing at least one Native person to the cabinet was absolutely essential under the Biden administration.
“Representative Haaland, through two elections to Congress, has been vetted and has wide-ranging and broad support by tribal leaders and activists. She has a long and dedicated career working with and in tribal governments. The Department of the Interior impacts the lives of all Americans and needs a visionary – Representative Haaland is that visionary,” said Crystal Echo Hawk, Founder and Executive Director of IllumiNative, in a statement.
For her part, Haaland seems likely to accept if the President-elect extends the offer.
“It would be an honor to move the Biden-Harris climate agenda forward, help repair the government to government relationship with Tribes that the Trump Administration has ruined, and serve as the first Native American cabinet secretary in our nation’s history,” Haaland said in a statement to The New York Times.
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