Deb Haaland (2021- )

Deb Haaland (2021- )

Deb Haaland was sworn in as the 54th secretary of the Interior on March 18, 2021, becoming the first Native American cabinet secretary. President Joe Biden nominated her in December 2020, and the US Senate confirmed her by a vote of 51 to 40. 

Debra Anne Haaland was born on December 2, 1960, in Winslow, Arizona. Her mother was a Native American who served in the US Navy, and her father was a US Marine who served in the Vietnam War and was awarded the Silver Star for bravery in combat. Haaland is a member of the Laguna Pueblo, one of the federally recognized Native American tribes. She spent her childhood moving frequently until she settled in New Mexico during high school. 

She attended the University of New Mexico, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in English in 1994. She then graduated from the University of New Mexico Law School in 2006. Early in her career, she ran a small business making salsa and was the first woman elected to serve on the board of directors for the Laguna Development Corporation, which oversees business operations for the Pueblo of the Laguna. In 2014, Haaland ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor of New Mexico, and the next year, she was elected head of the New Mexico Democratic Party. She is credited with helping the Democrats reclaim control of the state House of Representatives. 

In 2018, she ran for the US House of Representatives from New Mexico’s 1st district. Haaland, along with Sharice Davids who won a congressional seat in Kansas during the same election, became the first two Native American women to be seated in the US Congress. After Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election, Native Americans and their allies started a public campaign to urge the president-elect to nominate Haaland as secretary of the Interior. In December 2020, he announced her nomination.

Haaland’s appointment is significant, not simply because she is the first Native American cabinet member, but also because the Interior Department oversees the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Bureau of Indian Education. For much of US history, Native Americans viewed the Interior Department as a hostile entity because it worked against the interests of Native Americans. The department oversees public lands, including Native American lands, and it improperly tracked the income generated by those lands and did not distribute the money properly to Native American tribes. Many hope that Secretary Haaland will be able to improve the department’s relationship with Native Americans. 

As secretary, Haaland will also be responsible for enacting many of President Biden’s efforts to combat climate change and preserve land and endangered species.