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Native people are crying happy tears — on their apartment floor, on social media, in their cars — over Rep. Deb Haaland’s selection as head of the Interior Department.

This decision is historic for many reasons. One, a Native person in a Cabinet-level position. Two, it’s a win for Native women across Turtle Island. Three, Nick Tilsen, CEO and president of NDN Collective, sums up:

“Haaland’s appointment gives us a voice in a Department that has long been responsible for our exploitation,” Tilsen tweeted.

(Previous story: A 'barrier-breaking public servant')

Haaland, Pueblos of Laguna and Jemez, was reelected in November for a second term to represent New Mexico. In 2018, she made history as one of the first two Native women elected to Congress.

Now, she’s a Senate confirmation away from being the first Native to lead the Interior Department. 

“I can’t stop crying, happy tears,” tweeted Minnesota Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, White Earth.

Indigenous leaders and groups have been rallying behind Haaland for the position for weeks. On Thursday, they celebrated.

Here’s a look at what people had to say:

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez

“Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez applauds historic moment as Deb Haaland selected to lead the Department of the Interior under the Biden-Harris Administration.”

Navajo Nation Council Speaker Seth Damon

“The Navajo Nation congratulates Rep. Deb Haaland on being asked to serve as the first Native American Secretary of United States Department of the Interior. The consideration, and hopeful confirmation, of Rep. Haaland to this role is a sign of change and hope that tribal nations will be represented well in Washington. Most importantly, we recognize the importance of this moment and offer our sincere appreciation to Rep. Haaland for advancing our causes during her dedicated service in Congress. The Navajo Nation Council looks forward to working with the Biden-Harris Administration to further tribal sovereignty and self-governance.”

Tricia Zunker, Ho-Chunk, former Democratic Candidate for Congress

“Incredible news! Congrats @Deb4CongressNM on this historic appointment. So happy!”

New Mexico Sen. Tom Udall

“I congratulate my friend Deb Haaland on this momentous and well-earned nomination to serve as the next Secretary of the Interior. President-Elect Biden has chosen an outstanding leader in Congresswoman Haaland, and I am confident that she will be both a historic Interior Secretary and an excellent one. She will undo the damage of the Trump administration, restore the department’s workforce and expertise, uphold our obligations to Native communities, and take the bold action needed to tackle the accelerating climate and nature crises.

I know it will be significant and meaningful for Native Americans, especially Native women, to see Secretary Haaland, a member of the Pueblo of Laguna, leading the department that is tasked with meeting many of our responsibilities to Tribes and managing inherently Indigenous land. This is a watershed moment for Native communities, and for our nation.”

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

‘This is a big deal.

Historic appointment. A visionary Native woman in charge of federal lands. Unequivocally progressive. Green New Deal champion. Exquisitely experienced.

@RepDebHaaland sister, you are going to do such a great job. I am so proud of you and the movement.”

Rep.-elect Kai Kahele

Nick Tilsen, NDN Collective president and CEO

“We congratulate Rep. Haaland on this historic appointment. Today is more than history making. Haaland’s appointment gives us a voice in a Department that has long been responsible for our exploitation. As Secretary of the Department of the Interior, she will have the power to stand up to the corporations who have been influencing the Department for generations and causing the destruction of Indigenous lands.”

New Mexico Indian Affairs Department

“Congratulations to Congresswoman Deb Haaland for being selected to serve as the first Native American Secretary of the U.S. Department of Interior under the Biden-Harris Administration.”

Kansas Rep. Sharice Davids, Ho-Chunk

“While I’ll miss serving alongside Deb in the House, I’m very much looking forward to working with her at the Department of the Interior.”

Melanie Benjamin, Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe Chief Executive

"As a female leader of a tribal nation I want to extend a heartfelt congratulations to Congresswoman Deb Haaland on her historic nomination to serve as the next Secretary of the Interior. I also want to thank President-elect Joe Biden for being a man of his word as he works to ensure his cabinet reflects the diversity of our great nation. For the first time in our nation’s history, Native Americans can look upon their federal government and see a cabinet leader who has walked in our shoes, and who understands how her decisions will impact our daily lives. I have no doubt Deb Haaland will do an outstanding job for Indian Country and for all of America."

Native Organizers Alliance

“Rep. Haaland’s nomination to lead the Department of the Interior is a historic moment for tribes and the representation of Native peoples in our federal government. Her nomination validates the impact Native people had in this year’s presidential election. For the first time, we will have a person who looks like us and understands the complexities of treaties and tribal governments in the process of overseeing public lands.

Rep. Haaland brings deep experience in natural resources and tribal sovereignty, and an understanding of our Indigenous ways of protecting our lands, waters, fish, and wildlife. Native peoples have always been stewards of this land but we have not always been in the political positions to make the key policy decisions that shape our natural resources.

We praise President-elect Joe Biden for his decision to nominate a Native woman for a position that has tremendous impact on tribal governments and our cultures and traditions. This decision will have a lasting impact on Indian Country, and we can only hope it is the first step in reversing a long history of the federal government’s failure to uphold our treaties and a signal that the Biden administration will make good on its trust responsibilities.”

Dave Archambault II, former tribal chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe

“It means a lot when you have somebody from Indian Country in a high level position because there is a true understanding of what Indian Country is dealing with. Had we had somebody in Indian Country, from Indian Country in that position back then, there would have been more understanding of what we were going through.”

Rebecca Nagle, Cherokee writer

“Deb Haaland becomes the first Native person ever in the history of the United States to be appointed to a cabinet position.”

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Rory Wheeler, NCAI Youth Commission co-president

“Congratulations to my friend, @DebHaalandNM on being President-elect @JoeBiden’s pick to lead @Interior. We will finally have a cabinet that looks like US. This historic choice is not only a win for Tribes, but our public lands, our natural resources, and our future.”

Young Americans for Biden & Harris

“It’s the groundbreaking nomination for us.”

Mark Ruffalo, We Stand United

“President-elect Biden’s nomination of Congresswoman Deb Haaland is being heralded by Indian County and people across our country as a step towards healing some of the most damaging wounds of the past and a harbinger of unity and progress. It took 244 years to have a Native American cabinet member, and today President-elect Biden and Congresswoman Deb Haaland made history. She is extremely qualified for the position and will be a transformational leader in a department that connects with the daily lives of Native people and protects our water, lands, natural resources, and climate. Thanks to everyone who joined the #DebForInterior campaign and took action to support Rep. Haaland.”

Twyla Baker

“This news gives me great hope and hits so close to home. With Deb as Secretary, I want to believe that @MHANation1825’s battle for our very own homelands as we speak, will be at an end, and our land rights which were long affirmed until 45, will be restored.


National Native American Law Student Association

"We are ecstatic to announce that National NALSA Alum and Mentor Deb Haaland has been selected as the Secretary of the Interior! We trust in her focused energy and experience, and know she will do amazing things for our county!”

Nikki Pitre, Center for Native American Youth executive director

“The nomination of Representative Deb Haaland to lead the Department of Interior is historic, groundbreaking, and a proud moment for Indian Country. As a Native American woman, I know that representation and visibility matters. To be the first Native woman cabinet secretary in history will be a proud moment for our people.

Native youth look to her as more than a role model, but as an Aunty, because we trust her and are continually inspired by her leadership.”

Julian Brave NoiseCat

Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks

“Representative Deb Haaland is exactly the type of national parks and public lands champion we need at the helm of Interior.

Representative Haaland is a public lands champion with experience protecting and managing America’s most majestic landmarks. As a member of the National Resources Committee and its National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands subcommittee, she has been at the forefront crafting thoughtful solutions to combating the climate crisis that continues to impact our national parks.”

Cheryl Ellenwood

“Do you even know how long we’ve waited for representation?”

Manilan Houle

“The nomination of Deb Haaland alone is historic. Today is a momentous day for Natives across this country. An Administration that has signaled it will center our experiences and take it's Trust Responsibilities seriously. Truly a new page in US and Native relations.”

“We can only #BuildBackBetter when we are all at the table. Thank you to Pres. Elect @JoeBiden for taking Native voices seriously and selecting one of our own to ensure that your Administration does it's best to live up to the US Trust obligations to Indian Country. A wise choice.”

Jordan Daniel

Native Americans in Philanthropy

“We're wishing @RepDebHaaland enthusiastic & heartfelt congratulations on being named President-Elect Biden's Secretary of the Interior! She continues to make history as the first Native American to be appointed to a Cabinet position.”

“Her voice as a Native person will be indispensable as she oversees federal agencies whose operations & policies directly impact our communities. We hope this is one of many steps this admin will take to strengthen relationships between our tribal nations & federal government.”

Ruth Hopkins

Emma Hall

“I remember crying my eyes out when Haaland and Sharice Davids were elected into Congress. Today is a good day for Native women.”

Graham Lee Brewer

“Impossible to describe what it means for an Indigenous person to run the Interior. That position in particular has so much to do with it, but just the fact that there is a Native cabinet member is quite remarkable. Feeling a lot of emotions I did when Haaland was first elected.”

Martie Simmons

Johnnie Jae

“It's not enough to just have a Native at the head of the Interior if they are not educated or willing to do what is right by ALL Native people and that includes the Freedmen who are Chickasaw, Choctaw, Seminole, Creek and Cherokee.”

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