Haaland is first Native in presidential cabinet
New Mexico Congresswoman Deb Haaland was confirmed as the new Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior by the US Senate on March 15 by a vote of 51-40.
Secretary Haaland, an enrolled member of the Laguna Pueblo, will be the first Native American to serve in a cabinet-level position.
Haaland shared a brief statement after the vote.
“Thank you to the U.S. Senate for your confirmation vote today,” she said. “As Secretary of the Interior, I look forward to collaborating with all of you. I am ready to serve.”
The US Department of the Interior oversees the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Bureau of Indian Education, as well as land and natural resource management, wildlife conservation, and territorial affairs.
Haaland’s historic confirmation was praised by Democrats in the Senate. In confirmation hearings, Republican Senators expressed concern about her priorities as a congresswoman, including strong environmental protections and work against fossil fuels.
Utah Senators Mike Lee and Mitt Romney, both Republicans, voted against Haaland’s confirmation.
Her role as Secretary of the Interior may have a significant impact on San Juan County.
On his first day in office on January 20, President Joe Biden ordered the Department of the Interior to conduct a 60-day review of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument boundaries.
The Biden executive order asks the department to “determine whether restoration of the monument boundaries and conditions that existed as of January 20, 2017, would be appropriate.”
The original 60-day deadline issued by the President would expire on March 21. Utah Congressional representatives have asked for an extension on that deadline to allow Secretary Haaland to visit the area and meet with groups impacted by the monument.
The Bears Ears National Monument was originally designated to be 1.35 million acres in size by President Barack Obama in 2016.
In 2017, President Donald Trump reduced the size of Bears Ears National Monument to approximately 200,000 acres.
Secretary Haaland will have an influence on what the future of the monument may hold.
Several elected leaders – both for and against – weighed in after Haaland’s confirmation.
Utah Senator Mitt Romney said, “Based on Rep. Haaland’s record and views on land management and energy resources, including her support for radical policies like the Green New Deal, I am not able to support her confirmation to lead the Interior Department.”
Romney expressed appreciation for the opportunity to meet with Secretary Haaland to discuss issues important to Utah, including the ongoing review of the Bears Ears National Monument.
Romney reiterated the Utah delegation preference for a permanent legislative solution that provides certainty and reflects state, local, and tribal input.
Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez congratulated Haaland on her confirmation, stating, “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. This 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.’”