This past week brought an announcement from the 46th President Elect’s office on the nomination for the Secretary of Interior position, House of Representative Debra Haaland of New Mexico. This nomination has solidified President-Elect Biden and Vice President-Elect Harris’ promise to be a more inclusive, progressive, and diverse cabinet. This appointment is revolutionary, outstanding, and diverse. If this nomination is accepted, Deb Haaland will become the first Native American and first Native American woman to hold this position.
Let’s talk about who Representative Haaland is. Debra Haaland was born into a military family. Her mother was in the Navy and her father was a combat Marine. Debra experienced a childhood of traveling due to her parents’ military service. This would see that Debra attended 13 different schools. Her mother also spent her career in providing education for Indigenous peoples. Her and her mother’s lineage is Laguna Pueblo and Jemez Pueblo. Debra identifies as a 35th generation New Mexican.
Deb Haaland has also known hardship. She became a single mother who had to struggle to make ends meet. She relied on the help of food stamps while living paycheck by paycheck and at times homeless. She put herself through college while raising her daughter. She was able to attend University of New Mexico and later UNM Law School. Both her and her daughter are currently paying off their student loans. Rep. Haaland created a small business making salsa to help pay bills. Her hard work and skills saw her become the first Chairwoman elected to the Laguna Development Corporation Board of Directors. This position provided Rep. Haaland the opportunity to advocate and establish eco-friendly practices for the second largest tribal gaming organization in New Mexico.
She was elected to be the leader of the Democratic Party of New Mexico in 2014. While in this position, she traveled to the Standing Rock Reservation during the Dakota Pipeline Protests in solidarity and support of the indigenous communities, to help protect tribal sovereignty, and advocate for the preservation of natural lands. Also, during her term, Deb was able to pay off seven years of debts incurred by previous leaders for the New Mexico Democratic Party.
2018 saw Debra Haaland run and win the House of Representatives 1st District seat for New Mexico. Her win alongside Sharice Davids’ win in Kansas saw for the first time two Native American women serving in the House of Representatives.
When Deb was sworn into office, she wore the traditional dress of the Pueblo peoples.
Her two years in the House of Representatives has been fruitful and laud worthy. She is on the Committee on Armed Services, the Committee on Oversight and Reform, and the Vice Chair of the Committee on Natural Resources. She presided over the House proceedings in March 2019, becoming the first Native American woman to chair over the House. The click is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f3CHiYIo7O0
When President-Elect Biden and Vice President-Elect Harris announced Deb Haaland, they did so with a very clear message for the future. That what happens on US land matters, who decides that matters, and the people that are affected the most by these decisions should have a say in them.
What is the Secretary of the Interior’s position and duties? The Department of the Interior is responsible for majority of federal lands, natural resources, land management, Geological Survey, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the National Park Services. This position was established in 1849 and is 8th in line in the Presidential Succession. As this is a Cabinet position, the person who holds the position must be nominated by the President and approved by the Senate. President Taylor in 1849 created the current position of the Secretary of the Interior. In its earliest days, the Interior Department dealt with almost everything stateside. The DOI website states,
The Interior Department had a wide range of responsibilities entrusted to it: the construction of the national capital’s water system, the colonization of freed slaves in Haiti, exploration of western wilderness, oversight of the District of Columbia jail, regulation of territorial governments, management of hospitals and universities, management of public parks, and the basic responsibilities for Indians, public lands, patents, and pensions. In one way or another all of these had to do with the internal development of the Nation or the welfare of its people.
Which brings up to 2020 and why this nomination is important. With the acceptance of her nomination, Rep. Haaland will be the first Native American not only in the role as Secretary of the Interior but also in charge of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Rep. Haaland’s career and service has provided her with outstanding qualifications. This nomination is an indicator that environmental issues, land preservation, and communities who have long been denied representation and federal support will be heard. When the nomination was announced, thousands of indigenous peoples saw this as a step finally in the right direction. An NBC article writes,
So Native Americans’ collective massive sigh of relief Thursday wasn’t just about representation. A new scintilla of hope has bloomed among us in part because Haaland, like millions of Indigenous peoples, strongly believes in and practices the Seven Generation rule. The rule says that all significant decisions must be made with the next seven generations in mind, and includes preserving and protecting the water, the earth and the two leggeds and the four leggeds for people you will never meet — at least in this life.
The NDN Collective, a grassroots organization led by Indigenous to strengthen and support other indigenous. They released a statement stating this,
We congratulate Rep. Haaland on this historic appointment. Today is more than history making. Haaland’s appointment gives us a voice in a Department that has long been responsible for our exploitation.”
Since the announcement, I have not stopped tearing up when thinking about what this nomination and appointment means. I end this with Rep. Haaland’s own words as she accepts the nomination: https://youtu.be/6nnCGM0Rpvs.
Anjeanette LeBoeuf is still doing her part by staying home during this pandemic and hopes all that reads this are safe and well. She is the Queer Advocate for the Western Region of the American Academy of Religion. Her focuses are divided between South Asian religions and religion and popular culture. She focuses on exploring the representations of women in all forms of popular culture and how religion plays into them. During this pandemic, she has started to tackle the mounds of books that have piled up and is simultaneously reading YA fantasy books and strenuous academic books.