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The 35th-generation New Mexican will oversee the country's federal land and natural resources

By Sean Neumann
March 16, 2021 01:09 PM
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Rep. Deb Haaland
Rep. Deb Haaland
| Credit: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty

New Mexico Rep. Deb Haaland was approved on Monday by the Senate as the next secretary of the Department of the Interior.

The historic confirmation makes her the first Native American to hold a Cabinet-level position. As interior secretary, Haaland, 60, will manage the country's federal lands and natural resources.

The new role places her in a crucial position to oversee American Indian affairs, including how America's treaties with indigenous people are fulfilled.

Haaland, a member of the Pueblo of Laguna tribe, thanked the congressional body after her historic confirmation, which came by a 51-40 vote in the Senate. (Republicans criticized her positions on drilling and fracking and called her a "vehement opponent" of fossil fuels.)

"I am ready to serve," she tweeted on Monday.

A 35th-generation New Mexican, Haaland has already made history throughout her career.

She was the first Native-American woman to serve as any state's political party leader, when she led the New Mexico Democratic Party from 2015 to 2017, before she was elected to Congress in 2018.

Her 2018 election to the House of Representative was historic as well, becoming one of the first two indigeonous women from the continental U.S. to be elected to Congress, according to The Arizona Republic.

The New Mexico lawmaker will resign from that role to join President Joe Biden's Cabinet.

"A voice like mine has never been a Cabinet secretary or at the head of the Department of Interior," Haaland, 60, tweeted in December after Biden, 78, chose her as his nominee.

"Growing up in my mother's Pueblo household made me fierce," she wrote then. "I'll be fierce for all of us, our planet, and all of our protected land. I am honored and ready to serve."

Deb Haaland
Deb Haaland
| Credit: Jemal Countess/Getty
Rep. Deb Haaland (D-NM), nominee for Secretary of the Interior, testifies at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on Capitol Hill February 23, 2021
Deb Haaland
| Credit: Graeme Jennings/Getty

During Haaland's confirmation hearing in February, CBS News reported that she introduced herself to congressional lawmakers in her tribal Keresan language.

"This historic nature of my confirmation is not lost on me, but I will say it's not about me," she told the senators. "Rather, I hope this nomination would be an inspiration for Americans moving forward together as one nation and creating opportunities for all of us."

A month later, Haaland's confirmation was celebrated throughout Native-American communities across the country, according to multiple news outlets.

"Indian country has shouted from the valleys, from the mountaintops, that it's time. It's overdue," Stephine Poston, a Sandia Pueblo tribal member, told NPR.

Jason Holuby, a Muscogee (Creek) Nation member from Oklahoma, told the Associated Press that "it's a huge opportunity for Indian Country to have someone that's clearly going to be supportive of those things that can improve the lives of Native people."