American Indian leaders widely praised President-elect Joseph R. Biden’s pick of Rep. Deb Haaland to lead the Interior Department, a sprawling bureaucracy that oversees many tribal federal agencies, including the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
The New Mexico Democrat, an enrolled member of the Laguna Pueblo tribe, would be the first American Indian to serve in the Cabinet if approved by the Senate.
Mark Fox, chairman of the Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara Nation, the Three Affiliated Tribes, told KFYR TV in Bismarck, North Dakota, that the 60-year-old Haaland would be “very knowledgeable” as interior secretary, “understanding federal Indian law” and “the difference between trust land and federal lands.”
Navajo Nation President Jonathan New called Ms. Haaland’s nomination “historic and unprecedented for all indigenous people.”
National Congress of American Indians President Fawn Sharp said “the centuries of invisibility of American Indian and Alaska Native people are fading as our best and brightest emerge into prominent positions of leadership.”
And Minnesota Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, an enrolled member of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe, wrote in a tweet, “It’s a monumental step forward for the United States of America” and a “meaningful win” for Indian country.
The Department of the Interior, which oversees federal lands, encompasses 70,000 employees and nine bureaus, including the National Park Service, the U.S. Geological Survey, and the Bureau of Land Management.
Mr. Biden’s selection of Ms. Haaland, a lawyer who has served one term in the House, would leave Democrats in the chamber with a slight 219-member majority — only one more seat than the required 218 to hold a majority in the 435-member chamber.