President-elect Joe Biden plans to nominate New Mexico Congresswoman Deb Haaland to be secretary of the interior. She would be the first Native American to lead the agency.
Haaland, 60, is a member of the Laguna Pueblo. The Interior Department has a large influence over the country’s nearly 600 federally recognized tribes, in addition to overseeing federal lands, including wildlife, national parks and mineral wealth.
Native American groups were pleased. Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said he was overjoyed, according to The Associated Press.
“It is truly a historic and unprecedented day for all Indigenous people,” he said.
Environmental groups also praised the choice.
“Representative Haaland’s historic appointment means a new era of protection for our wildlife, public lands and waters from the rapacious extractive industries that have ruled the day under the Trump administration,” said Kierán Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s critical for Native American leaders to be part of all decision-making about public lands, and Haaland’s appointment will ensure that.”
Some Democrats expressed concerns over the selection of Haaland because it further, albeit perhaps temporarily, depletes the party’s newly slimmed majority in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Biden has picked two other representatives to serve in his administration, Louisiana Congressman Cedric Richmond and Ohio Congresswoman Marcia Fudge.
Any concerns were allayed by party leadership. Both House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and South Carolina Congressman James Clyburn, the No. 3 Democrat, blessed the choice.
Haaland is one of the first two Native American women elected to Congress in 2018. She is vice chair of the House Committee for Natural Resources. Before coming to Congress, she was head of New Mexico’s Democratic Party.
Interior secretary could be a key position in the Biden administration, as Biden has promised to curb fossil fuel extraction from federal lands.