Reactions From Indian Country to Deb Haaland’s Confirmation as Secretary of the Interior

On Monday, March 15, 2021, Deb Haaland (Laguna and Jemez Pueblos) was confirmed as the first Native American Secretary of the Interior.

Deb Haaland speaks at the Groundbreaking Ceremony for the National Native American Veterans Memorial, Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019. Paul Morigi/AP Images for Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian.
Deb Haaland speaks at the Groundbreaking Ceremony for the National Native American Veterans Memorial, Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019. Paul Morigi/AP Images for Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian.

I believe we all have a stake in the future of our country, and I believe that every one of us – Republicans, Democrats, and Independents – shares a common bond: our love for the outdoors and a desire and obligation to keep our nation livable for future generations.” - Deb Haaland

Deb Haaland with Kevin Gover and Bill Lomax at the groundbreaking ceremony for the National Native American Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC.
Deb Haaland with former museum director Kevin Gover (Pawnee) and former chair of the museum's Board of Trustees, Bill Lomax (Gitxsan) at the Groundbreaking Ceremony for the National Native American Veterans Memorial, Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019. Paul Morigi/AP Images for Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian.

In December president-elect Joe Biden selected a Native woman to head the United States Department of the Interior (DOI), making her the first Native American to be selected to lead a Cabinet agency in history. After two grueling days of hearings in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, New Mexico Representative Deb Haaland (Laguna and Jemez Pueblos) was confirmed and sent to the full Senate for a vote to lead the Department of the Interior. On Monday, March 15, 2021, she was confirmed by the full Senate.

“I carry my life experiences with me everywhere I go. It’s those experiences that give me hope for the future. If an Indigenous woman from humble beginnings can be confirmed as Secretary of the Interior, our country holds promise for everyone.” – Deb Haaland

Debra Anne Haaland was born in Winslow, Arizona and grew up in a military family. Her mother was a Navy veteran who was a federal employee for 25 years in Indian education. Her father was a 30-year combat Marine who was awarded the Silver Star medal for his participation in Vietnam. Haaland moved frequently and attended 13 public schools across the country before her family settled in Albuquerque, making her a 35th generation New Mexican. Prior to being the confirmed as Secretary, she was elected to two terms as a Congresswoman representing New Mexico’s 1st District.

On Capitol Hill, Haaland rose quickly with her progressive politics, earning prestigious posts on the House Natural Resources Committee despite her lack of seniority. While she served in the United States House of Representatives Haaland was a passionate public lands advocate, supporting three separate bills that were signed into law which increase access for hunting and fishing, expand outdoor recreation opportunities, and protect some of our nation’s most important land holdings.

In its 171-year history, The Department of Interior has been led by 53 secretaries. As Secretary of Interior, Haaland is sixth in line of succession to the presidency, according to the White House. The Department employs some 70,000 people in eleven bureaus:

Haaland will oversee all 11 bureaus, the nation's public lands and waters, and relations with 574 federally recognized tribes. The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) was originally placed under the Department of War. On March 3, 1849, the last day of the 30th Congress, a bill was passed to create the Department of the Interior to take charge of the nation's internal affairs including the BIA.

We asked our Native readership from across Indian Country to share their reactions to Haaland’s recent conformation as Secretary of the Interior. Here are their responses represented by their tribe, city and state:

Today, our ancestors’ prayers were answered in their quest to protect and preserve our sacred lands; our connection to all living things that rely on our lands and waters. Secretary Haaland (It is so inspiring to address her in that manner), will have the ability to ensure the federal fiduciary responsibility of protecting Tribal Nations’ lands, rights, and responsibilities. The First People of this land will have a protector in Sec. Haaland who will lead with her heart as she understands the need to right historic wrongs. Her tenure will prepare the Dept. of Interior and its many programs to begin the effort to implement that fiduciary responsibility. Sec. Haaland will have generations of Ancestors watching over and guiding her. Make no mistake, Sec. Haaland will need partners at all levels to assist in creating a new future that protects our lands, waters, and animals for generations to come. I say to her in my language n’il’iscut’, which means “to take heart and never give up! OH, one more thing, my daughters have a new elder to look up to and follow in her footsteps!

Omak, Washingon

To say that Deb Haaland’s appointment is historic is an understatement. The appointment of a Native woman to lead the Department of Interior is a sign of hope. Hope for the protection of our environment, sacred sites, land, and our people. I have hope that for the first time, our voices will be heard. I have hope that we have a chance to make a real difference over the next four years; a chance to create a better future for our children and grandchildren. I have hope that they will not be invisible and not be marginalized in an effort to forget or erase the sins committed against our people. Deb Haaland is our Hope for Conscience.

Seminole Tribe of Florida
Naples, Florida

The original people of this land were granted their citizenship just in 1924. Where I come from, our people believe in and value matrilineal societies. Our people recognized and honored how powerful women truly are. They have the abilities to nurture, heal and create. Women are our mothers, our aunties, our grandmothers, our sisters, and our daughters. Women over time have fought for their rights to apply these powers. Today we see women even being able to apply those special capabilities to positions as important as the Secretary of the Interior Department. Every day is a good day to hug the women in our families.

Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation
Mayetta, Kansas

History has been made! I am elated and proud of Deb Haaland for her accomplishments, her leadership and commitment as she and President Biden address climate change, fracking, and all other areas of concern to protect the land and wildlife for our United States of America. Secretary Haaland will be the top administrator with respect to American Indian and Alaska Native programs. May Creator guide her from above, we, the people stand behind her and our ancestors in spirit stand in honor before her. Ashoog' and Peshu' (thank you)!

White Mountain Apache and Walker River Paiute
Phoenix, Arizona

It’s such an emotional event that has occurred. I feel like this is a day that will live forever with Native people and especially Native women. I’m proud to know that such a momentous achievement happened in my lifetime and that my daughter was able to witness it as well. I tell her the sky is the limit, just look at Deb! One step for Deb, one giant leap for Native Women everywhere in the US. We are a country that is only now beginning to recognize “liberty and justice for ALL”

MOWA Choctaw
Mt. Vernon, Alabama

This is a historic event for America. The first Native American to hold a cabinet position in the United States. However, not as historic in Native America that a woman would be selected to such an important and momentous position. Historically in Native American and Indigenous communities, women play a large roll in leadership of the people. What is historic is the time it has taken the patriarchal leadership in America to move forward with the nomination and subsequent confirmation. It is unfortunate how long the confirmation took as well as negative trajectory or assault on her capabilities before passing in a very close vote. Her job is clearly cut out for her to protect our lands and natural resources while being prudent in creating progressive balanced change for all Americans.

As Native people we need to have patience, support and respect her endeavors to appease all tribal and non-tribal stakeholders. Lastly, we must pray for her success and health.

Eastern Shoshone
Fort Washakie, Wyoming

Deb Haaland's appointment as the Secretary of the Interior comes at a time when the US government can use some new old ways. It wasn't shocking her appointment was challenged. She brings with her the legacy of Indigenous truths and matriarchal teachings which have always threatened a system built on greed. I feel inspired by her appointment. I think we can look forward to some really good changes she can continue to bring to Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities alike.

Southampton, New York

It is about time that the original stewards of this land are given the opportunity to reestablish that stewardship and oversee the care of 500M acres of public lands and 55M acres of tribal lands. I am ecstatic that Haaland has been confirmed, yet I recognize the obstacles she had to overcome to get where she is at. With strength and courage, she has persevered.

Lipan Apache Tribe of Texas
Fort Collins, Colorado

Rep. Deb Haaland as Secretary of Interior is a big asset to all tribes of the United States. Will make a impact on protecting our lands, treaty rights and the air we breathe mainly for a better world to live for the children and grandchildren of Indigenous people! It will make our land easier to stand on so to speak. As global warnings are becoming the norm in this society maybe now in her position will make history as the first Native American Indian to lead us in a better environment. She just makes it amazing as her role now for stronger Native women in a cultural way of life. The future is hopeful for the lands in which we live.

Spirit Lake Nation
St Michael, North Dakota

Having a Native woman in charge of the agency that oversees lands and natural resources was 170 years overdue. If there is a person whose seen their ancestral land changed and mismanaged first hand over the course of many years, she has. Her experience, strength, and wisdom (and leadership) be instrumental in combating climate change because she sees the earth as living. Life on Mikinaak Minis (aka. Turtle Island) is headed in the right direction at last.

Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa
Lac du Flambeau, Wisconsin

History had been made and this is a long time coming. We have a voice at the table. Deb has blazed a trail and cleared the pathway for others and I couldn't be happier or prouder. Our Ancestors from all Tribes are looking down and smiling today!

Iowa Tribe
Moore, Oklahoma

I've honestly had a bit a hard time figuring what my reaction is. At the moment, I think I'm still overwhelmed by the history that was made with Deb Haaland's confirmation. For the first time in the history of the US government, the cabinet position that most directly affects my life is finally filled with a Native woman. I do not know what I am feeling right now because I have never felt this before. However, I do know I definitely feel joy about this moment. Our lands are a national treasure in and of themselves. When treated properly they will sustain all our needs as human beings. The US was built on foreign ideals of "improving" land. Yet, Secretary Haaland's ancestors, as well as my own, in different parts of the continent understood that the land was already perfect and it is human beings that constantly must strive to improve. Her appointment opens a doorway for her ancestors' knowledge to enter the decision-making processes about the future of the nation's lands. This is truly a time in our lives where the course of future may finally change to a sustainable one for future generations. Her confirmation does not just benefit Native peoples in the US, it benefits all peoples. I do not envy the pressure she must feel. Being the first anything is hard enough. So, I send my prayers and encouragement her way. I also look forward to Secretary Haaland's future success in this role as we all stand to benefit from those moments. The pandemic is still ongoing and that struggle we all endure is not over. But, the future feels brighter in NDN country today. Brighter than I can ever recall feeling in my lifetime.

Bar Harbor, Maine