Haaland OK'd at Interior,
1st Native American Cabinet head
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate on Monday
confirmed New Mexico Rep. Deb Haaland as interior secretary,
making her the first Native American to lead a Cabinet
department and the first to lead the federal agency that has
wielded influence over the nation’s tribes for more than
nearly two centuries.
Haaland was confirmed by a 51-40 vote.
Democrats and tribal groups hailed
Haaland’s confirmation as historic, saying her selection
means that Indigenous people — who lived in North America
before the United States was created — will for the first
time see a Native American lead the powerful department
where decisions on relations with the nearly 600 federally
recognized tribes are made. Interior also oversees a host of
other issues, including energy development on public lands
and waters, national parks and endangered species.
“Rep. Haaland's confirmation
represents a gigantic step forward in creating a government
that represents the full richness and diversity of this
country,'' said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
“Native Americans for far too long
have been neglected at the Cabinet level and in so many
other places,'' Schumer said.
Haaland's nomination has been closely
watched by tribal communities across the country, with some
virtual parties drawing hundreds of people to watch her
two-day confirmation hearing last month.
Supporters projected a photo of
Haaland, a two-term congresswoman who represents greater
Albuquerque, on the side of the Interior building in
downtown Washington with text that read “Our Ancestors’
Dreams Come True.”
Many Native Americans see Haaland, 60,
as someone who will elevate their voices and protect the
environment and tribes’ rights. Her selection break a
two-century pattern of non-Native officials, mostly male,
serving as the top federal official over American Indian
affairs. The federal government often worked to dispossess
tribes of their land and, until recently, to assimilate them
into white culture.
“It is long past time that an American
Indian serve as the secretary of the Interior," said Fawn
Sharp, president of the National Congress of American
Indians, the nation's oldest and largest tribal
“The nation needs her leadership and
vision to help lead our response to climate change, to
steward our lands and cultural resources and to ensure that
across the federal government, the United States lives up to
its trust and treaty obligations to tribal nations and our
citizens,'' Sharp said.
Jonathan Nez, president of the Navajo
Nation in Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, called Haaland’s
confirmation “an unprecedented and monumental day for all
first people of this country. Words cannot express how
overjoyed and proud we are to see one of our own confirmed
to serve in this high-level position.″
Haaland’s confirmation “sets us on a
better path to righting the wrongs of the past with the
federal government and inspires hope in our people,
especially our young people,'' Nez added.
Not everyone was celebrating. Some
Republican senators have criticized Haaland's views on oil
drilling and other energy development as “radical” and
extreme, citing her opposition to the Keystone XL oil
pipeline and her support for the Green New Deal, a sweeping,
if mostly aspirational, policy to address climate change and
Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, the top
Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources
Committee, said Haaland's “extreme views" and support of
“catastrophic legislation” such as the Green New Deal would
make her confirmation as interior secretary disastrous,
harming America's energy supply and economy.
“American jobs are being sacrificed in
the name of the Biden agenda, and Rep. Haaland couldn’t
defend it,'' Barrasso said, referring to decisions by
President Joe Biden to reject the Keystone XL pipeline and
impose a moratorium on new oil and gas leases on federal
Barrasso also faulted Haaland's
support for continued protection for grizzly bears in the
Yellowstone region of the Rocky Mountains, despite a
recommendation by the Fish and Wildlife Service that about
700 bears in parts of Montana, Wyoming and Idaho no longer
“Rep. Haaland has chosen to ignore the
science and the scientists of the very department that she
is now nominated to lead,'' Barrasso said, calling on
Interior to remove protections for the grizzly under the
Endangered Species Act.
Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., said she
appreciates Haaland's leadership in the House on a range of
issues, adding that Haaland's status as a Native American
“will give us an extra advantage on (tribal) issues that are
so important to Indian Country overall.''
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said
she had “some real misgivings” about Haaland because of her
views on oil drilling and other energy issues, but said
Native Alaskans, an important constituency in her rural
state, had urged her to back Haaland.
“Quite honestly, we need (Haaland) to
be a success,″ Murkowski said.
Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., said he
was disappointed at the rhetoric used by Barrasso and other
Republicans. Heinrich, who lives in Haaland’s district, said
she “always has an open door and an open mind” to a range of
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