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WASHINGTON — With her confirmation to become the 54th secretary of the Department of the Interior, Rep. Deb Haaland (Pueblo of Laguna) will be the first American Indian in history as a presidential cabinet secretary.

Nominated on Dec. 18, 2020, Haaland was confirmed by the United States Senate on Monday by a vote of 51-40. She is slated to be sworn in on Thursday by Vice President Kamala Harris.

The Senate confirmation garnered praise and celebration across Indian Country. Several national American Indian organizations, tribal leaders and members of Congress released statements on the historic Senate vote.

Here are some of the statements received by Native News Online since Haaland’s confirmation as Interior secretary.

U.S. Senate, Washington, D.C.

“In elevating Rep. Haaland to lead the Department of Interior, we reset the relationship between the federal government and tribal nations to one of cooperation, mutual respect, and trust—so different than the last administration’s attitude.” – Senate Majority Leaer Chuck Schumer (D-NY)

Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, Washington, D.C.

“Congratulations to Secretary Haaland on her historic confirmation as the first Native American to lead the Department of the Interior. Her leadership on public lands and waters, natural resources management, and climate action as well as her deep connections to Native communities will benefit all Americans. It’s clear Secretary Haaland shares my commitment to consultation with Native leaders to address the real challenges facing Native communities across the country. I look forward to working with her on our shared obligation to uphold the U.S. trust responsibility to American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians.” – U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, chairman

All Pueblo Council of Governors, Albuquerque, N.M.

Secretary Haaland’s leadership of the Interior Department provides a long-overdue opportunity to strengthen the nation-to-nation relationship and help our nation swing the pendulum on our most pressing indigenous and environmental justice issues,” shared APCG Chairman Wilfred Herrera Jr., former Governor of Laguna Pueblo.

APCG Secretary David M. Toledo, former Governor of Jemez Pueblo also commented: “Madam Secretary, APCG applauds your leadership, your dedication, your grit, and your courage at this historic moment. All Pueblo people, and women in particular, will find inspiration in your journey and your passion to serve. This moment will be remembered as an example that no glass ceiling is unbreakable.”

Native Organizers Alliance, New York, N.Y.

“The impact of Deb Haaland’s confirmation as Secretary of the Interior can’t be understated. For the first time, we will have a person who looks like us and who, like us, shares a deep understanding of our ancestral responsibilities to care for the sacred lands and waters of this country.

“The work ahead to protect our sacred places is the work our ancestors began long before us. It is an historic moment to have a Laguna Pueblo woman in this leadership position who shares our understanding of the sanctity of our natural resources. We look forward to the department forging new and stronger relationships with sovereign tribal nations.” – Executive Director Judith Le Blanc (Caddo)

Navajo Nation, Window Rock, Ariz.

“This is an unprecedented and monumental day for all First People of this country. Words cannot express how overjoyed and proud we are to see one of our own confirmed to serve in this high-level position. It’s a wonderful feeling that we can now refer to her as Madam Secretary. Today’s historic confirmation sets us on a better path to righting the wrongs of the past with the Federal government and inspires hope in our people, especially our young people. It gives us a seat at the table to offer a new and different perspective from a person that has experienced the reality of adversities and challenges of growing up on what Federal officials refer to as ‘Indian reservations.’ On behalf of First Lady Phefelia Nez and our family, we congratulate Secretary Haaland and her family.” – President Jonathan Nez

Navajo Nation Council – Window Rock, Ariz.

Speaker Seth Damon (Bááháálí, Chichiltah, Manuelito, Tsé Łichíí’, Rock Springs, Tsayatoh) said: “The Senate’s confirmation today of Congresswoman Debra Haaland to lead the US Department of the Interior demonstrates progress for all Tribal Nations and is a milestone in United States history. Throughout the past few weeks, the entire country has heard how Haaland worked across party lines to build common understanding and to pass strong legislation. Her voice in Congress will be missed, but under the Biden-Harris Administration, we look forward to a new approach by the Federal Government to listening directly to the Navajo People and all Tribal Communities.”

Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, Cherokee, N.C.

"Deb Haaland's confirmation to serve as Secretary of the Interior is a genuinely historic moment, and I do not doubt that our ancestors are looking down upon us with pride at how far we've come since the days of their sacrifices. Not only will Secretary Haaland be the first Native American cabinet secretary, but she will also be an effective and successful administrator of the Department of the Interior. We look forward to working with Secretary Haaland on matters that affect the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and all Native Americans." – Principal Chief Richard Sneed

Center for Native American Youth – Aspen Institute

“Native youth are proud to join the fight for clean air, clean water, healthy wildlife, and the protection of sacred lands. As Secretary Haaland states: Like our ancestors who came before us, leaving a ladder down for you all to climb is one of my priorities. 

Congratulations, Interior Secretary Haaland! Native youth are ready to climb that ladder and honor the foundation Secretary Haaland continues to build for all of us.”   

American Federation of Teachers, Washington, D.C.

“Through her commitment to justice and equity, Deb Haaland will continue her work to undo the grave damage of the Trump administration. Instead of being beholden to corporate interests, she will—as she says—‘be fierce for all of us, for our planet, and all of our protected land.’ She recognizes we all have a stake in the future of our country and deserve a just and vibrant future, from communities hit hardest by climate change,  to fossil fuel workers, to those who care deeply for their lands, to those who want clean energy jobs.” – AFT President Randi Weingarten

People For the American Way, Berkeley, Calif.

“This is a major victory for Indigenous rights, equity, and clean energy. During her time in Congress, Ms. Haaland has been a strong supporter of progressive policies that protect public lands, shift America away from reliance on fossil fuels and towards clean energy solutions and promote equity for Indigenous peoples in America. We know Secretary Haaland will continue prioritizing these issues and more at the Interior Department. As a member of the Laguna Pueblo, it is significant that Ms. Haaland will lead the department responsible for honoring special commitments to American Indians, Alaska Natives, and affiliated island communities to help them prosper.” 

National Congress of American Indians, Washington, D.C.

Her confirmation is a watershed moment for Indian Country, marking the first time in the history of the United States that a Native American has served as a cabinet Secretary.

Haaland’s confirmation recognizes the importance of Native American leadership, partnership, and representation at a federal agency critical to the needs of Indian Country. The Interior Department is responsible not only for the management of public lands, waters, mineral resources and wildlife, it holds a fiduciary duty to uphold federal trust and treaty responsibilities to 574 tribal nations and more than 5.2 million American Indian and Alaska Native people. 

“The impact of Native American representation at the top of a federal agency that so directly affects our daily lives cannot be overstated, and we congratulate Secretary Haaland on this historic achievement,” said NCAI President Fawn Sharp. “The relationship between Tribal Nations and the federal government has been fractured for far too long. Having an ally like Secretary Haaland who is not only deeply qualified but is from our communities has the potential to transform the government-to-government relationship and will be vital in advancing Native American issues for generations.”

Advance Native Political Leadership

“There’s no overstating how significant and powerful it is to see ourselves represented in this administration. As Secretary Haaland said in her opening remarks, ‘If an Indigenous woman from humble beginnings can be confirmed as Secretary of the Interior, our country holds promise for everyone.’”

National Center for American Indian for Enterprise Development, Mesa, Ariz.

“Native Americans nationwide can celebrate this confirmation as a defining moment for Native representation in the United States. With a long history of advocating on behalf of Native communities and other groups historically left out of the political conversation, we know that Secretary Haaland will be a strong advocate for America’s first peoples. The Department of the Interior’s 70,000 employees will have an experienced, thoughtful leader at the helm, and the millions of Americans who benefit from the Department’s services and programs will have a Secretary dedicated to the Department’s mission and mandate. 

“We thank President Biden for keeping his promise to build a Cabinet and Administration that ‘looks like America.’” – President and CEO Chris James:

Montana Wildlife Federation, Helena, Mont.

“Today’s historic, bi-partisan vote to confirm Deb Haaland as Interior Secretary is a victory for Montana hunters, anglers and wildlife enthusiasts. Secretary Haaland will restore transparency to the agencies that manage much of Montana’s public lands, while ensuring the protection of our fish and wildlife, and unparalleled sporting opportunities.

“Haaland’s confirmation is a welcome change within the Interior Department, which has suffered from an unbalanced approach to public lands management over the last four years. Hunters and anglers have witnessed unprecedented attacks on Montana conservation values, which comes at the expense of fish and wildlife.” – Alec Underwood, Federal Conservation Campaigns Director

Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Moab, Mont.

“Utah's public lands suffered significant damage under the mismanagement of the Trump administration. As the first Native American to head the Department of Interior and a Westerner, Secretary Haaland is uniquely positioned to understand the importance of restoring Bears Ears and Grand Staircase National Monuments; protecting cultural resources from the impacts of off-road vehicle use; and establishing a forward-looking, science-oriented approach to the stewardship of wild public lands. We congratulate her on this historic day and are grateful she was a strong supporter of America's Red Rock Wilderness Act and the 30x30 initiative during her time in Congress. We look forward to her visiting Utah and working with her on the ground to find solutions.” – Scott Groene, Executive Director

Accountable Senate War Room, Washington, D.C.

“From the outset, Republican senators set their sights on sinking Haaland’s confirmation, with the loudest voices of opposition coming from those working on behalf of their oil and gas donors. Despite their name-calling and smear campaigns, aggressively hostile questioning, and attempted delays, their attacks against Haaland fell flat because the American people could see through their real motives: scratching the backs of their Big Oil donors. Our country is lucky to have a proven environmental leader like Haaland leading the Interior, who will advocate for the people, public lands, and tribal communities after four years of its catering to Big Oil and the fossil fuel industry.” – Mairead Lynn, Spokesperson

Chesapeake Conservancy, Annapolis, Md.  

“As the first Indigenous woman to hold this level of public office in the United States, Secretary Debra Haaland will elevate a critical perspective and voice to the Department of the Interior and to the Administration. The United States must reconcile its historic legacy of oppressing and excluding Indigenous people and Tribal Nations, and the management of U.S. lands and natural resources is integral to that effort. We are confident Secretary Haaland will exercise equitable and thoughtful leadership in managing America’s public lands, waters and natural resources for the betterment and enjoyment of future generations.

“Chesapeake Conservancy looks forward to supporting Secretary Haaland as she and her team seek to implement the goal of conserving 30% of our land and waters by 2030 as set forth in President Biden’s Executive Order 14008. With 22% of the Chesapeake Bay watershed already conserved, we’re committed to achieving this important conservation milestone for the Chesapeake Bay and contributing to a national goal through partnerships and technology.” – President & CEO Joel Dunn

Native American Finance Officers Association (NAFOA), Washington, D.C.

“NAFOA heartily congratulates Congresswoman Deb Haaland for her historic confirmation as the next Secretary of the Department of Interior. It is with great honor, pride and enthusiasm that NAFOA welcomes and embraces the first Native Interior Secretary. Congresswoman Haaland has demonstrated a strong commitment to building tribal economies, including supporting meaningful inclusion of tribal communities in the Community Reinvestment Act, testifying on behalf off Indian Country in support of equitable tax inclusion, and advocating for tribal governments in the Coronavirus Relief Fund among other important issues. As a trailblazer, we are confident she will continue to serve Indian Country in advancing economic growth and sovereignty for our Nations.” – Cristina Danforth, Board President, NAFOA

National Indian Health Board, Washington, D.C.

“As a veteran, an elder and Tribal leader, I am proud to see a Native American elevated to a Cabinet position within the Administration and we have every confidence that Congresswoman Haaland will serve Indian Country and the nation to the best of her abilities. Through Congresswoman Haaland’s national and state leadership, she has shown unwavering commitment to Tribal communities and proven that she can work with many different populations and coalitions to help advance policies and initiatives for the country.” – NIHB Chairman William “Bill” Smith (Valdez Native Tribe of Alaska)

Lakota People’s Law Project, Bismarck, N.D.

“I expect that, as Secretary of the Interior, Deb will protect sacred lands and water, prioritizing and improving the consultation process with tribal nations and asking our consent on matters that deeply affect Indian Country. It is no small matter that, for the first time in America’s long and painful history, the executive branch’s nation-to-nation relationships with tribes will be overseen by one of us.” – Chase Iron Eyes, Lead Counsel

California Legislature, Sacramento, Calif.

“I congratulate Secretary Haaland on her historic confirmation and applaud President Biden for this successful groundbreaking appointment. Native Americans across the nation can now look forward to more inclusive participation in the federal agencies and departments that affect us in so many ways—from health care access and education to protections of our culture and sacred lands. A chasm of distrust has existed over the centuries between American Indians and the federal government. Today, construction began on a bridge to a new era. The appointment of a Native American as Interior secretary is a milestone, I wasn’t sure would happen in my lifetime. Indian Country wishes her success as we cheer her achievement with pride and hope.” – Assemblymember James C. Ramos (D-Highland), chair of the California Native American Legislative Caucus, a member of the Serrano/Cahuilla tribe

North Dakota Native Vote, Mandan, N.D.

“Representative Haaland’s confirmation to the Department of Interior is a monumental moment for Indigenous people. For the last two years, she has fought against the destructive acts and policies that disproportionately affect our ancestral Indigenous lands and communities of color. Representative Haaland understands the critical need to reform the Department to ensure that these abuses never occur again.” – Nicole Donaghy, Executive Director of North Dakota Native Vote.

National Indian Gaming Association, Washington, D.C.

“This is a historic confirmation, not just for Indian Country, but for all of America. Secretary Haaland will overlook federal Indian policy, as well as all of the aspects of our country’s natural resources and historical places. The very essence of Native America is now overseen and cared for by one of our own. We look forward with working with Secretary Haaland in her new role and strengthening our government to government relationship.” – Chairman Ernst Steven, Jr. (Oneida)

Indigenous Environmental Network, Bemidji, Minn.

“Being the first Indigenous person to head the Department of Interior, we know that Haaland will help the administration find its path in confronting climate change, addressing the COVID-19 pandemic in Indian Country, ensuring an effective economic just recovery plan for Native nations and Indigenous communities, overseeing the protection of public lands, and fulfilling treaty and statutory obligations to the first peoples of Turtle Island.

“We look forward to working with Secretary Haaland and supporting her as an Indigenous woman working to protect the sacredness of Mother Earth. Together we will continue to educate and empower Indigenous Peoples to address and develop strategies for the protection of our environment, our health, and all life forms on this planet.”

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About The Author
Levi Rickert
Author: Levi RickertEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Levi "Calm Before the Storm" Rickert (Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation) is the founder, publisher and editor of Native News Online. Rickert was awarded Best Column 2021 Native Media Award for the print/online category by the Native American Journalists Association. He serves on the advisory board of the Multicultural Media Correspondents Association. He can be reached at [email protected].