President-elect Joe Biden has announced that Deb Haaland, a first-term Congressional representative from New Mexico, will become the first Native American Secretary of the Interior, which is great, as Secretaries of the Interior have a long history of dicking over indigenous peoples to steal land and resources.
Haaland is a member of Pueblo of Laguna, and as the Washington Post points out, her confirmation would mark “a turning point for a 171-year-old institution that has often had a fraught relationship with 574 federally recognized tribes.” That fraught relationship involves revoking land trusts and threatening the establishment of reservations for pretty much the entire time the department has existed right up until this very moment, a legacy that Haaland hopes to address and course-correct, according to those who pushed for her appointment:
“Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee and helped lead the campaign on behalf of Haaland, said that ‘any comment that she’s not qualified for the job is wrong, and a cheap shot.’ By selecting Haaland, Grijalva added, Biden is helping ‘begin to rewrite a legacy in this country. And I think that’s good given everything else that’s going on around us.’”
Haaland is highly qualified for the position, both as a representative for New Mexico who serves as Chair of the Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands and as a resident of a state that both relies on the oil and gas industry for jobs but also acknowledges the problems inherent to that reliance:
“‘I come from New Mexico. It’s a big gas and oil state. And I care about every single job,” Haaland said in a recent interview with The Washington Post. But she added: ‘We don’t want to go back to normal, right? We don’t want to go back to where we were because that economy wasn’t working for a lot of people.’”
The Department of the Interior oversees “more than 109 million acres of wilderness and 422 national park sites, as well as national monuments and wildlife refuges. It safeguards more than 1,000 endangered species, and manages massive water projects in the West that help sustain farmland and provide drinking water for major cities including Las Vegas and Los Angeles.” During his campaign, Joe Biden promised tangible efforts to address climate change and pave the way for advancements in clean energy. Hopefully, Haaland’s confirmation as Secretary of the Interior will be part of a real push to make good on those promises.