Haaland, the chair of House Natural Resources subcommittee with oversight authority for the Interior Department, made history in 2018 as one of just two Native American women ever elected to Congress. If Biden tapped her for the Interior Secretary post, it would be the first time the country has ever had a Native American serve as any Cabinet secretary.
“We greatly appreciate your commitment to building a Cabinet that reflects the diversity of America, and we strongly recommend that you nominate our colleague Representative Deb Haaland, a congresswoman from New Mexico and an enrolled member of the Pueblo of Laguna, as to serve as your Secretary of the Interior,” reads a letter to Biden that was sent Monday and signed by more than 50 House Democrats.
“She has been a champion for our environment and public lands and has worked tirelessly to improve the nation-to-nation relationship between the United States and Indian tribes,” continues the letter, led by House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.). “By selecting her to be your Secretary of the Interior, you can make history by giving Native Americans a seat at the Cabinet table for the first time.”
Here’s a copy of their letter:
On Friday, Democratic Reps. Gerry Connolly (Va.) and Paul Tonko (N.Y.), co-chairs of the House Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition, similarly wrote to Biden rallying behind Haaland for the job.
“Since joining Congress and our coalition, Congresswoman Haaland has demonstrated unwavering commitment to protecting public lands, addressing the climate crisis, and serving the needs of Indigenous communities across the country,” they wrote. “As an Indigenous woman, her nomination would be historically important, and she would bring perspective and direct experience to the work of serving Tribal communities in a way no office holder has before her.”
Even some Republicans are speaking up on her behalf. Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), who co-chairs the Congressional Native American Caucus with Haaland, raved about his bipartisan work with her.
“While we belong to different parties, I consider Congresswoman Deb Haaland a valued colleague and a good friend,” Cole told HuffPost in a Friday statement. “Congresswoman Haaland and I not only share a special bond through our tribal heritage and extensive knowledge of tribal history in the United States, but we have a shared understanding when it comes to advancing policies for the good of Indian Country.”
“Because we understand that Native American issues are not a matter of conservative versus liberal, we have accomplished a great deal together, including helping secure substantial federal funding to aid tribal governments in their response to the coronavirus crisis and shedding greater light on the heartbreaking epidemic of murdered and missing indigenous women,” he added.
“Because we understand that Native American issues are not a matter of conservative versus liberal, we have accomplished a great deal together.”
Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), the ranking member on the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, which Haaland chairs, explicitly endorsed Haaland for Interior Secretary.
“As Secretary of the Interior, [Rep. Haaland] would not only make history as the first Native American to serve in that role, but would pour her passion into the job every single day,” Young told reporter Julian Brave NoiseCat on Wednesday.
A Young spokesman did not respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.
The Interior Department is responsible for managing the country’s natural resources and honoring the federal government’s commitments to Native American tribes, which it has failed to do time and time again. It also oversees the Bureau of Indian Education and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the latter of which manages over 55 million acres of land held in trust for Native Americans by the government. Both agencies are notoriously underfunded and have failed to adequately serve Indigenous communities.
The seismic shift of putting a Native American woman in charge of the department with oversight of public lands ― from which Indigenous people were forcibly removed by the U.S. government ― is not lost on Haaland.
“The symbolism alone, yes, it’s profound,” she told HuffPost last week.
Haaland said “of course” she would be interested in the post of it were offered to her. She emphasized that people are advocating for her to get it, but that she did not know what was happening with the appointment process.
Biden has been mum on who he plans to appoint. Haaland’s name is being floated, along with Democratic Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich of New Mexico.
Biden transition team officials said Thursday that the president-elect plans to start announcing some Cabinet posts before Thanksgiving.