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Deb Haaland made history in 2018 as one of the two first Native American women elected to Congress. Photo: Graeme Jennings/Getty Images.
Deb Haaland made history in 2018 as one of the two first Native American women elected to Congress. Photo: Graeme Jennings/Getty Images.

Deb Haaland confirmed by the Senate as Secretary of the Interior, making history for Native Americans in politics

Haaland’s post is significant both for the history she makes (again), and the power she will have to carve the future of the U.S. fight against climate change.

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In a historic vote on March 15, 2021, former New Mexico Rep. Deb Haaland was confirmed by the Senate to be President Joe Biden’s Secretary of the Interior by a vote of 51 to 40.

With confirmation, Haaland becomes the first Native American to ever be elevated to a cabinet-level position. She is of the Laguna Pueblo tribe, based in New Mexico.

As the Secretary of Interior, Haaland will also play a major role in carrying out the Biden administration’s plans to combat the climate crisis and take the first steps to make the U.S. carbon neutral by 2050, as called for by the administration.

The Department of Interior itself manages one-fifth of all U.S. land and its offshore holdings. Fossil fuel extractions from these U.S. public lands are a major factor in the country’s overall greenhouse gas emissions. 

It also looks out for the country’s endangered species and is responsible for maintaining the relationship between the U.S. government and Native American tribes.

At the beginning of her confirmation process, Haaland looked primed to be one of the major targets of Republicans given her past support of major progressive environmental policies.

She was one of the first reps to back the Green New Deal and has called the climate crisis the “challenge of our lifetime.”

Haaland was also highly critical of the Trump administration for its deregulatory agenda, backed limiting fossil fuel extraction on public lands, and opposed fracking.

Rather than bite on Republican challenges to her past, Haaland promised in the confirmation hearings to support the Biden administration’s goals and not her own.

The former does not support the Green New Deal and has only placed a temporary ban on fossil fuel extraction on public land.

“The president’s agenda demonstrates that America’s public lands can and should be engines for clean energy production,” said Haaland.

Another poignant statement she made during the hearings to emphasize the approach, was to acknowledge the continued use of fossil fuels in the country.

“There’s no question fossil fuel energy does and will continue to play a major role in America for years to come,” she said.

Haaland’s confirmation, while historic, is also nothing new to her. In 2018, she became one of the two first Native American women to be elected to Congress alongside Kansas Rep. Sharice Davids.

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