The U.S. Senate has confirmed Representative Deb Haaland as Home Secretary, making the New Mexico politician the first Indigenous person to head a cabinet agency in U.S. history.
Haaland, a member of the Laguna Pueblo tribe, will oversee more than 202,342,821 hectares (500 million acres) of U.S. land and federal government relations with 574 recognized Indigenous nations. Native American and environmental groups campaigned for Haaland’s confirmation.
“Indigenous people, advocates and allies across the country have worked tirelessly to support and uplift [Haaland] and we couldn’t be more proud of her, ”Crystal Echo Hawk, Founder and CEO of IllumiNative, an indigenous-led group that aims to raise the profile of indigenous nations, told Al Jazeera.
Echo Hawk called Haaland, one of the first Indigenous women elected to the US Congress in 2018, “a powerhouse and history maker who will fight to make sure Indigenous issues and voices are heard.”
Haaland has long opposed hydraulic fracturing and even joined protests against pipelines and wrote in a 2017 article on the Web Medium platform that “[f]racking is a danger to the air we breathe and the water we drink ”, and“ auctioning our land for fracking and drilling only serves to generate profits for a few “.
The New Mexico lawmaker was upheld by a 51-40 margin. The vote came following a toasting by Republican senators on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee last month over his views on the exploitation of natural gas and petroleum on public lands.
Deb Haaland defended Native Americans and her views on renewable energy during her Cabinet confirmation hearing. pic.twitter.com/CCo4oarfSw
– AJ + (@ajplus) February 26, 2021
Haaland was also a supporter of the Green New Deal, a phased plan to shift the US economy from fossil fuels to renewable energy. It has the support of the Sunrise Movement, an environmental organization popular with the progressive left.
Indigenous peoples have been sidelined throughout America’s history, and while the appointment of Deb Haaland as Home Secretary may not undo this damage, it is a huge step towards stopping and reversing this trend.
– Sunrise Movement 🌅 (@sunrisemvmt) December 17, 2020
Haaland told Republicans, who challenged her on her anti-fracking views during the confirmation hearing, that she would present President Joe Biden’s platform, not hers.
As Secretary of the Interior, Haaland will also oversee federally recognized Indigenous reservations.
Indigenous peoples in the United States have renewed their efforts in recent years to prevent the exploitation of their sacred sites.
The standing rock protests on the Dakota Access Pipeline, led by the Lakota people in 2016, have been compared to the civil rights movement.
Haaland was present in the camps used by the protesters, providing food.
More recently, Oglala Lakota activists have pushed for Mount Rushmore, a monument to four US presidents carved from a sacred mountain that represents the ancestors of the Oglala and other indigenous groups, to be returned to the tribe.
Former President Donald Trump paid a controversial visit to the South Dakota monument last year to celebrate U.S. Independence Day on July 4 – which usually includes fireworks and is important to the state economy – without consulting Indigenous leaders.
The visit was announced by South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, an ally of Trump.
During the February confirmation hearing, Republican Senator Roger Marshall said, “I think it’s great for America to celebrate our independence and what a great place to do it,” and said Noem had invited Haaland and Biden to attend.
“If the pandemic is over and we’re able to travel, I’ve never been to Mount Rushmore, so I appreciate that,” Haaland replied.
Haaland previously told MSNBC before July 4 that tribes were not included in discussions about the external borders of their reserves and that “it is not because sacred sites are not included in their external boundaries.” that the tribes do not hold these sites as sacred.
“Native history is American history,” Haaland said. “We have to respect it.”
.EpDebHaalandThe latter’s nomination goes to the Senate for a vote on Monday. Many senators should know that his confirmation is important to their constituents and that we are monitoring this vote. Click on the link to encourage them to support #DebForInterior. https://t.co/Cv27FxlO3r pic.twitter.com/Il8iD20kt4
– IllumiNative (@_IllumiNatives) March 11, 2021
Echo Hawk said the appointment of Al Jazeera Haaland gives indigenous communities a “renewed sense of hope and optimism for the future of this country.”
The Illuminative leader hopes Haaland “will continue to inspire more indigenous peoples to run for office, from tribes and locals, to Congress and beyond.”