The Senate has confirmed Deb Haaland – a member of the Laguna Pueblo tribe in New Mexico – as President Joe Biden’s election to lead the Home Office. Haaland’s confirmation marks the first Native American to be appointed cabinet secretary in history, overseeing the department that administers the public and tribal lands.
The Senate vote to confirm Monday fell largely along party lines (51-40), with nine members missing the vote. During her hearing, Haaland received an aggressive Republican backlash from senators whose home states – and political careers – depend heavily on the fossil fuel industry, calling their views on protecting the environment and indigenous communities “radical”. Interviewing Haaland during their two-day ratification hearing with Republican senators reflected a longstanding battle between fossil fuel supporters and environmentalists.
Senator Bill Cassidy, a Republican from Louisiana who accepted nearly $ 1.7 million from Big Oil, asked Haaland, “Is your government run by fossil fuel prejudice or is it science run?” Meanwhile, Utah Republican Senator Mike Lee attacked the Obama-era protections to convert Bears Ears – an area of great importance to Native Americans – into a national monument. As Chief of the Interior, Haaland will lead the review of Biden’s Executive Order to come up with findings and recommendations to restore the boundaries of Utah’s Bear Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante National Monuments, which the Trump administration has cut by 2 million acres. “The monument designation doesn’t make it prettier,” said Lee.
Through the hearing, Haaland said She will work hard to bridge party lines and address concerns of Congress members – but also said she would not set aside either environmental concerns or Biden’s climate agenda.
“As I learned in that role, it is clear that fossil fuels will and will continue to play an important role in America in the years to come. I know how important oil and gas revenues are in financing critical services, ”said Haaland in her opening speeches. “But we also have to recognize that the energy industry is innovative, and our climatic challenge has to be tackled.”
Indigenous communities and environmental activists who have long supported Biden’s election praised Haaland’s affirmation. “She is the most qualified person to lead the interior into an era of repair and regeneration,” said Nick Tilsen, a citizen of the Oglala Lakota Nation of South Dakota and CEO of NDN Collective, an organization devoted to building indigenous power. “Indian Country has rallied behind her and is ready to roll up their sleeves with her and this government to see what world we can create for our children and grandchildren.”
Her new role as the first Native American woman to serve as Secretary of the Interior will be a huge step forward for the environment and indigenous communities, and a huge undertaking considering what the previous administration did to decimate the department.
The importance of an indigenous environmentalist as minister of the interior
In 2018, Haaland made history as one of the first two Native American women to be elected to Congress along with Rep. Sharice Davids, a member of the Ho Chunk Nation in Kansas. As a member of Congress, she was vice chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources and chair of the National Parks, Forests and Public Land Subcommittee and a member of the United States Indigenous Peoples Subcommittee. As a member of such committees, she had to listen to statements from community members, activists and lobbyists who voiced concerns about the Trump administration’s push to destroy sacred sites, pollute the environment and drill on public land.
“It’s disheartening,” Haaland told Vox last November. “The Trump administration has essentially destroyed and gutted the department and guidelines. President Biden’s commitment to fighting climate change and protecting our environment is the most advanced we have ever seen, and it will fix that. “
Haaland’s appointment as head of the department is in line with the Biden-Harris Tribal Nation Campaign Plan, a comprehensive draft released last October that lists the government’s priorities in addressing key issues affecting tribal communities, such as: . B. Healthcare and Education. In addition to monitoring all public areas, the Ministry of the Interior is also responsible for complying with the federal government’s obligations towards tribal nations – a task that the ministry has repeatedly failed to fulfill in the past.
And since no Native American has served a cabinet secretary before in US history, Haaland brings a whole new approach to her role, one with an in-depth knowledge and connection to issues of indigenous affairs and the environment. She understands how the climate crisis is disproportionately affecting marginalized communities – For example, when oil pipelines run through indigenous holy land, there is a risk of soil and water pollution, or when industrial plants are opened in historically black neighborhoods.
“The Home Office has historically been a place where the fossil fuel industry and transnational corporations have used public land as a playground to destroy the environment, contribute to climate change, and fill the pockets of the few at the expense of the environment and all, ”said Tilsen. “She is not qualified to repeat this cycle because she stands together with people and the environment.”