As Vice President Kamala Harris put it while swearing-in Deb Haaland, “History is being made, yet again.” We’re just three months into 2021 and history has continually been in the making. From Vice President Harris becoming the first woman and first woman of color to hold office in the White House to Amanda Gorman taking on the role as the youngest inauguration poet ever, this year is off to an inspiring and trailblazing start, paving the way for the next generations of women to follow.
Deb Haaland joins Harris and Gorman as she becomes the 54th United States Secretary of the Interior, earning her spot in history as the first Native American to hold that position as well as the second Native American to serve in the Cabinet after former Vice President Charles Curtis in 1929.
Paying homage to her Indigenous roots
“This moment is profound when we consider the fact that a former secretary of the interior once proclaimed his goal to, quote, ‘civilize or exterminate’ us,” Haaland said, referring to former-Secretary of the Interior, Alexander H.H. Stuart who wrote those words in 1851. “I’m a living testament to the failure of that horrific ideology. I also stand on the shoulders of my ancestors and all the people who have sacrificed so that I can be here.”
Haaland was sworn in on March 18, donning a traditional ribbon skirt designed and created by the Indigenous-owned brand, ReeCreeations, embellished with colorful ribbons along with an image of corn and butterflies. According to the designer, ribbon skirts are indicative of the matriarchal power carried on through Indigenous women, taking with them stories of survival and resilience. The garment is worn to stay grounded and connect to not only the earth but their ancestors as well and is typically worn for special occasions.
She supported Indigenous designs right down to her accessories, wearing a pair of mukluk-style boots as well as a turquoise necklace and belt, a material used by many Indigenous artists in New Mexico as turquoise deposits are abundant in the area. Pat Pruitt, a metalsmith also from the Laguna Pueblo tribe, also played a part in Haaland’s swearing-in ensemble, with her wearing his dragonfly earrings as another piece in her outfit.
Who is Deb Haaland?
Haaland is a member of the Laguna Pueblo, a tribe of Native American Pueblo people located in the proximity of Albuquerque. The Pueblo people have lived on the land of New Mexico since the 1200s, with Haaland identifying as a 35th-generation New Mexican herself.
Long before Haaland was sworn in as Secretary of the Interior, she served as the state vote director for Native Americans during Barack Obama’s re-election campaign in 2012. For the next two years, she served as the chair of the Democratic Party of New Mexico Native American caucus before running for Lieutenant Governor of New Mexico in 2014. Despite losing that election, Haaland continued her path in politics, serving as the chair of the New Mexico Democratic Party from 2015 to 2017. After her stint as chair, she served as the U.S representative for New Mexico’s 1st congressional district from 2019 to 2021, right up until her historic appointment.
What will her role on the Cabinet be?
It is not lost on us that an Indigenous woman is now in a position of power that oversees the department that controls some of the land that is owned by the federal government. Haaland will manage relationships with nearly 600 Native American tribes and oversee the country’s natural resources, including oil and gas. She will also lead agencies like the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and National Park Service. The Department of the Interior manages public lands, minerals, national parks, wildlife refuges, as well as upholds Federal trust responsibilities to Native American tribes as well as Native Alaskans. If that wasn’t enough, the department is also responsible for endangered species conservation as well as other environmental conservation efforts that can be done.
Haaland has said that one of her goals in her role is to make the transition to clean energy a priority during her time serving on the Cabinet. Another focus for Haaland is bringing broadband access to Native American communities in addition to addressing the increased number of missing and murdered Native American women.
“It’s difficult to not feel obligated to protect this land, and I feel that every indigenous person in this country understands that, which is why we have such a high rate of our people who serve in the military,” Haaland said. “We want to protect this country. And that means protecting it in every single way and ensuring that those jobs, that sustenance, the opportunities for our children and grandchildren to learn and grow in this beautiful country that — that we keep that for many generations to come. It’s an obligation of mine that I take very seriously.”
Photo credit: Deb Haaland Instagram