Haaland Makes History As First Native Interior Secretary, Against The Wishes Of Lankford And Inhofe

Mar 16, 2021

Appearing on a livestream event Monday shortly after her historic confirmation to lead the Department of the Interior, Rep. Deb Haaland (D-NM) shared her first reaction to learning the vote was official.

"My sisters are here and they're cooking, and we're going to have dinner in tonight," Haaland told viewers of the event, hosted by advocacy and activist organization NDN Collective.

"And I had a call earlier with my security detail. So I was teasing my sisters -- we were like, 'We need more tomatoes for the salad.' I was like, 'Let me hurry and run out before the security detail finds out that I got voted in,'" Haaland said, laughing. 

When she's sworn in, which is expected to happen by the end of the week, Haaland, an enrolled member of the Laguna Pueblo, will become the first Native American to serve as Interior Secretary -- as well as the first Native to serve in any Cabinet position.

"No, it should not have taken more than 200 years for a Native person to take the helm at Interior, or even be a Cabinet secretary, for that matter," Haaland said. "President Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and the entire administration are going to use this moment to build back better for every single one of us."

"We have so much work to do to bring justice to the communities who have borne the burden of environmental injustice; to Native American, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian communities who have lived through terrible atrocities; and to those who will be needing jobs in a clean energy economy," Haaland said.

"I'm ready to roll up my sleeves so Interior can play our part in the president's plan to build back better, and to responsibly manage our natural resources to protect them for future generations so that we can continue to live, work, hunt, fish and pray among them," she said.

While her confirmation received support from a handful of Senate Republicans, Oklahoma's senators were not among them.

In a February statement announcing he would oppose Haaland's nomination, Sen. James Lankford said he would not vote for her confirmation because of what he views as her "commitment to an unrealistic energy reality."

In a Monday statement, Sen. Jim Inhofe described Haaland as "radical," and said her policy priorities would do harm to Oklahomans. 

Their votes against Haaland went against the wishes of the leaders of 26 tribal nations in Oklahoma, who sent a letter to the two senators in January urging them to support her. 

In a statement following the confirmation vote, Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said, "She will need our continued support as she blazes forward on this new path... I look forward to working with her in the months and years ahead. The appointment of a Native American to this position is quite simply long overdue, and Secretary Haaland is the right choice to take on this crucial role."