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In an interview with the Huffington Post, Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.), one of the most respected leaders in Indian Country, said “Oh yes, of course” when asked if she’d accept the job of Secretary of the Interior Department if President-elect Joe Biden were to offer it to her. 

Haaland (Laguna Pueblo) made history in 2018 when she, along with Rep. Sharice Davids (Ho-Chunk Nation), became one of the first two Native American women elected to Congress. According to HuffPost, dozens of tribal leaders throughout the country are now urging the new president to pick Haaland as secretary of the department that manages the country’s natural resources, and oversees the bureaus of Indian Education and Indian Affairs ― both of which have failed, and continue to fail, Native communities.   

HuffPost reported that more than 120 elected tribal leaders and intertribal organization officials plan to send a letter to Biden this week urging him to name an Indigenous person to serve in a Cabinet position. 

“We’ve never had a Native American serve in any Cabinet position,” Bryan Newland, tribal chairman of the Bay Mills Indian Community in Michigan and a lead organizer on the letter, told HuffPost. “Rep. Haaland is more than qualified and capable of serving as secretary of interior and would be a great choice.”

Haaland’s name has been making the rounds for several weeks as a possible candidate for the position. Though Haaland noted to HuffPost that Biden’s team had not reached out to her about the role, she said that the symbolism alone ― a Native woman running the department that oversees the lands that were taken from Native people by the U.S. government ― would be “profound.” 

Democratic senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich aren’t the only ones pushing for Haaland to make history as the first Native American to serve in a presidential cabinet. Aaron Payment, Vice President of the National Congress of American Indians and Chairperson of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, submitted an NCAI resolution after the election calling for the appointment of an American Indian to Interior secretary. 

“This cabinet level position chairs the White House Council, which is made up of all cabinet positions and provides project management for the president on the government-to-government relationship and honoring the treaty and trust responsibility,” Payment told Native News Online. “The resolution has been cleared and will be reported to the NCAI Committee on Litigation and Governance. I am confident it will be approved.”

Payment added: “Aside from my role with NCAI, I fully endorse Congresswoman Debra Haaland for appointment as our first American Indian to serve as Secretary of Interior. Her leadership on behalf of all of Indian Country is unsurpassed."

Haaland remarked to HuffPost that regardless of whom Biden taps for the role, the next person in charge of Interior has the all-important job of tackling climate change.

“Whoever becomes secretary has an opportunity to combat climate change, to take this 25 percent carbon that our public lands are emitting right now and eliminate that,” she said. “I think that what is required is somebody who cares about our public lands.”

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