Biden Appoints First Native American Cabinet Secretary

Posted by on Jan 26, 2021 in Current Events, People and Culture

One of a new president’s most important jobs is appointing a new cabinet. President Biden has appointed New Mexico Representative Deb Haaland to be the nation’s new Secretary of the Interior. This is an historic choice: if Congress approves it, then Representative Haaland will be the first Native American cabinet secretary in the nation’s history. Here, btw takes a closer look at this significant decision.

What Does the Secretary of the Interior Do?

A president’s cabinet is made up of the heads of fifteen departments. These heads are called secretaries. Each department secretary’s job is to advise the president. The Department of the Interior secretary’s job is to advise the president on as the use of natural resources, public land use policies, and cultural matters. The Department of the Interior also includes the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which is a connection between Native American communities and the federal government. Yet, never has a Native American actually been in charge of this department.

Who is Deb Haaland?

Two years ago, Haaland became one of the first two Native American women in Congress when she was elected to the House of Representatives. Haaland grew up very poor, without running water or electricity, as a member of the Pueblo Nation of Laguna in New Mexico. She raised her daughter as a single mother and struggled under severe poverty at times in her life. She sometimes relied on government assistance to feed herself and her child. Even so, she put herself through college, earning both an undergraduate and a law degree from the University of New Mexico. Later, she started a small business, became a tribal administrator, and served as Chairwoman of the New Mexico Democratic Party. Haaland has been an advocate for tribal rights and pro-environment policies.

What Has Been the Response to Her Nomination?

While most Democrats are happy about the decision, Native American groups are especially pleased. For the first time in history, an Interior secretary will have firsthand knowledge of, and experience with, the unique challenges facing Native Americans. Tribal groups say they will now have an advocate at the highest level of government and will finally have a seat at the table. She also provides inspiration for other young Native Americans who might someday want to seek a role in government as well.

What Happens Next?

Secretary of the Interior is not an appointed position. That means that Haaland must go through a confirmation process. The Senate will eventually vote on Haaland’s nomination. A simple majority wins, and since Democrats hold a narrow lead in the Senate, it is likely that Haaland will be approved.

What happens to Haaland’s seat in Congress if she is approved? She will need to formally submit a vacancy with the State of New Mexico, resigning from her role. New Mexico’s secretary of state will then hold a special election to fill her House seat. This special election will likely take place in April. 

Dig Deeper  What does the Interior Department do? Why might Haaland be a good fit for the position?