WASHINGTON – President-elect Joe Biden will nominate Deb Haaland, a Democratic congresswoman from New Mexico, to serve as the first Native American interior secretary and thus oversee the country’s vast natural resources including tribal lands, multiple local media reported on Thursday, citing people familiar with the matter.
If confirmed by the Senate, it will place a Native American in a cabinet secretary position for the first time in the US history and mark a turning point for a 171-year-old Interior Department that has often had a fraught relationship with 574 federally recognized tribes.
The 60-year-old member of Pueblo of Laguna would not only head the federal agency most responsible for the well-being of the country’s 1.9 million Indigenous people, but also is expected to play a central role in Biden’s environmental and climate change agenda.
Haaland just won reelection to a second term in the US House of Representatives from a north central New Mexico district that leans Democratic. In 2018, she and Sharice Davids of Kansas became the first two Native American women elected to Congress.
Haaland told NPR late last month that if she was nominated for the Interior role, it “would mean a lot to Indian Country.”
“As one of the first Native American women to have served in Congress, she serves as Chair of the Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Wednesday.
“Congresswoman Haaland knows the territory, and if she is the President-elect’s choice for Interior Secretary, then he will have made an excellent choice.” said Pelosi.
The US Interior Department runs roughly one-fifth of land including more than 109 million acres of wilderness and 422 national park sites, as well as national monuments and wildlife refuges.