Meet Deb Haaland, The First Native American To Become A Cabinet Secretary

Deb Haaland is a native of New Mexico and a member of the Pueblo of Laguna tribe. She ran for Congress in 2018 and won re-election in 2020 as a progressive Democrat. President Joseph Biden proposed Haaland as his interior secretary in December 2020. In addition to managing 574 federally recognized tribes’ treaties and legal obligations with the United States government, this position is in charge of public lands. Haaland became the first Native American to serve in a president’s Cabinet after being approved in March 2021.

When Was Deb Haaland Born?

Debra Anne Haaland was born in Winslow, Arizona, on December 2, 1960.

Family Background

Haaland belongs to the tribe of the Pueblo of Laguna. Since the early 1200s, the matrilineal tribe has lived in what is now New Mexico. Haaland describes herself as a 35th-generation New Mexican as a result of her ancestry.

Veteran of the Navy Mary Toya, who worked in Indian education for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, was Haaland’s mother. Toya made sure that her kids had a relationship with their maternal grandparents. Haaland observed her grandma cook while working outside with her grandfather.

John David Haaland, the father of Haaland, was a Minnesota-born Norwegian American. He received a Silver Star for his U.S. Marine Corps service in Vietnam.

Education and Career

Haaland and her family had to relocate frequently when she was young since her father was in the military. As a result, before the family moved to Albuquerque, she attended twelve public schools. Haaland completed his education at Highland High School there in 1978.

Before enrolling in the University of New Mexico at age 28, Haaland worked for a bakery. She received her diploma in 1994, and a few days later gave birth to her daughter Somáh.

Haaland enrolled in the University of New Mexico School of Law in 2003 and completed her studies there in 2006.

Haaland was a single mom who struggled with money. While in law school, she had to apply for food assistance and struggled to find lodging. For the purpose of caring for her small daughter, Haaland operated a salsa company. In a 2021 interview, Haaland stated, “I started cooking salsa because I needed to make a living and couldn’t afford child care.” While my child was young, it was a means to have flexible working hours.

Haaland served on the Laguna Development Corporation, which manages commercial operations for the Laguna people, from 2010 until 2015. She rose to the position of board chair there.

Early Political Actions

“I got into politics because I truly wanted more Native Americans to get out and vote,” Haaland previously stated to uPolitics in 2019.

Haaland volunteered for John Kerry’s 2004 and Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaigns. She worked as the Obama reelection campaign’s Native American Vote Director in 2012.

Haaland received preparation for her election through an Emerge New Mexico program. In 2014, she made an unsuccessful bid for lieutenant governor of New Mexico. The following year, Haaland was elected head of the Democratic Party of New Mexico, becoming the first Native American woman to hold that position.

In 2016, Haaland took part in protests against a proposed pipeline that would go through a water source for the Standing Rock Reservation.

Congressional Career

Haaland won a seat in the 1st Congressional District of New Mexico in 2018. Together with fellow Democrat Sharice Davids of Kansas, she was one of the first Native American women to be sworn into the U.S. House of Representatives in January 2019.

Haaland backed the Green New Deal, a piece of environmental legislation, and served on the House Natural Resources Committee. Haaland worked on legislation to address the ongoing problem of murdered and missing Indigenous women during her first term in Congress. She also supported laws that improved access to hunting, fishing, and outdoor leisure.

Haaland was elected to a second term in Congress in November 2020.

Secretary of the Interior

Democrat Joe Biden was elected president in November 2020. The following month, Haaland was named his pick for Secretary of the Interior.

In a speech accepting the nomination, Haaland noted the importance of having a Native person in the role, saying, “This moment is profound when we consider the fact that a former secretary of the interior once proclaimed it his goal to, quote, ‘civilize or exterminate’ us. I’m a living testament to the failure of that horrific ideology.”

Hearings for Haaland’s confirmation in February 2021 occasionally became heated. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the Bureau of Land Management are all under the direction of the Secretary of the Interior. Some Republican senators questioned Haaland’s qualification for a post in charge of energy leases for gas and oil drilling on public lands due to her stance on environmental problems. President Biden’s program would be carried out, Haaland informed the Senate.

On March 15, 2021, Haaland was ultimately approved by a vote of 51 to 40, with the backing of four Republican senators. Three days later, she took the oath of office.

In order to combat the scourge of missing and murdered Indigenous women, Haaland established the Missing & Murdered Unit in the Bureau of Indian Affairs. She also disclosed a probe into residential schools for American Indians. These institutions, which existed in the 19th and 20th centuries, emphasized coercive assimilation and frequently served as abuse hotspots. The maternal grandparents of Haaland were separated from their family and sent to such institutions.

Climate change mitigation has been listed as another one of Haaland’s goals for the Interior Department.

Personal Life

Haaland has been sober for more than 30 years.

Is Deb Haaland Married?

In August 2021, Haaland and longtime partner Skip Sayre married in New Mexico.


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