Last week, Senator Mark Kelly got the chance to hear directly from Deb Haaland, President Biden’s choice to lead the Department of the Interior. Her confirmation hearing, before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, provided a wonderful opportunity for all Americans to learn more about this remarkable woman, who is supremely qualified to steward our nation’s public lands.
Haaland was born in Winslow, Arizona and grew up in a military family: her father was a 30-year combat Marine who was awarded the Silver Star medal for saving six lives in Vietnam. Her mother was a Navy veteran. Like most military families, Haaland moved frequently and attended 13 public schools across the country before her family settled in Albuquerque, near her traditional homeland.
Haaland is an enrolled member of the Pueblo of Laguna and has Jemez Pueblo heritage. If confirmed, she will become the first-ever Native American cabinet secretary. Just writing those words takes my breath away.
Like Haaland, I grew up in a military family that moved frequently. My grand uncle was a World War II Navajo Code Talker in the U.S. Marines. My family, like Haaland’s family, has given much in service to our country. But until now, Native Americans have not had a seat at the most powerful table in the United States. All of that is about to change. As Interior Secretary, she will have the opportunity to speak up on behalf of Indigenous people – something that has been so clearly absent in the past.
But my admiration for Deb Haaland goes far beyond the historic nature of her nomination. Deb Haaland has spent a lifetime working to lift up the voices of marginalized populations. She was a community organizer in New Mexico who knew how to bring diverse stakeholders together to get things done. She got into politics to get more Native Americans to vote and to bring more attention to Indigenous issues.
Since her election to the U.S. Congress, she consistently reached across the aisle, getting Republican co-sponsors for bills like her SOAR act, which would make outdoor recreation more accessible for families who have not had opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors. She also introduced the PROGRESS for Indian Tribes Act, a bipartisan bill that was signed into law by President Trump, which will affirm the right to self-governance for tribes across the country.
Haaland has also been an ardent public lands advocate, championing three separate bills that were signed into law which expand outdoor recreation opportunities, increase access for hunting and fishing, and protect some of our nation’s most cherished landscapes. Haaland has a deep respect for wildlife, cultural values and sporting traditions that are intrinsically tied to the land. She understands that our land and all living things should be in harmony.
My great grandfather was a medicine man who did the Blessing Way ceremony, specifically to bring things back into balance. Deb Haaland will do just that. As Interior Secretary, she will work with diverse stakeholders to bring balance back to our public lands so they can be restored and enjoyed by all Americans for generations to come.
Doreen Garlid made history as the first Native American elected to the Tempe City Council in 2020.