The Senate has confirmed Representative Deb Haaland as President Biden’s secretary of the Interior, making her the first Native American to oversee the department that manages federal and tribal lands. A member of the Laguna Pueblo tribe of her home state of New Mexico, Haaland is now the first Indigenous person to serve in a presidential Cabinet — a development that comes less than three years after she became one of the first two Native American women elected to Congress.
Haaland’s nomination marked a considerable shift for the agency that oversees around a fifth of the total land in the United States. While the secretary confirmed to the post under the Trump administration was a former energy lobbyist who opened up oil leasing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, Haaland will oversee the implementation of what is known as the 30 by 30 Commitment — an international conservation measure that she sponsored in the House that would protect 30 percent of U.S. lands and territorial waters by 2030. In his first week in office, Biden signed an executive order committing to the policy.
The 51-40 vote in favor of her confirmation on Monday was roughly split along party lines, with nine senators not present and four Republicans — Lindsey Graham, Susan Collins, Dan Sullivan, and Lisa Murkowski — voting in her favor. Most Republicans who voted against her cited previous comments regarding new energy development on public lands, including a 2019 interview in which she said she “wholeheartedly” opposed new fracking and drilling. However, during her confirmation hearings she did not call for an end to the process, saying that fossil fuels “will continue to play a major role in America for years to come,” while stating that her department “has a role in harnessing the clean energy potential of our public lands to create jobs and new economic opportunities.”
As a Cabinet member, Haaland is the most senior Indigenous American to serve in the federal government since Republican Charles Curtis, a member of the Kaw nation who was vice-president to Herbert Hoover. Leading Interior, she will uphold U.S. obligations to Native American tribes, which have historically been broken to undercut tribal autonomy and have had last negative health effects. Part of her role at Interior will be implementing the Biden-Harris Plan for Tribal Nations, which would expand health-care access for Indigenous Americans and address climate change on tribal lands.