WASHINGTON – President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. has selected Representative Deb Haaland, Democrat of New Mexico, to lead the Home Office, according to those familiar with the decision, a move that would make history if it were ratified by the Senate , she would be the first Indian to be appointed cabinet secretary.
Ms. Haaland would not only lead the federal agency most responsible for the well-being of the country’s 1.9 million indigenous people, she would also play a central role in implementing Mr Biden’s ambitious environmental and climate change agenda. As the head of the agency that oversees 500 million acres of public land, including national parks, oil and gas wells, and endangered species habitat, she would be tasked with restoring federal protection to vast expanses of land and water that the Trump administration opened up to drilling , Mining, logging and construction.
In addition, she would oversee the Bureau of Indian Education and the Bureau of Trust Funds Administration, which manage the financial assets of the Indians held in trust.
“It would be an honor to advance Biden-Harris’ climate change agenda, restore government-government relations with the tribes destroyed by the Trump administration, and serve as the first Native American cabinet secretary in our nation’s history,” Ms. Haaland said in a statement.
Ms. Haaland is a citizen of Laguna Pueblo, one of the 574 nationally recognized tribes in the country.
Historians and tribal leaders said the appointment of a Native American was a milestone in the history of the United States with its Native Americans.
The Home Office has ruled states for much of the nation’s history, often ousting and abusing Indians. In 1972, about 500 Native American activists took over the division’s headquarters in Washington, DC to protest living standards and broken contracts.
“It would be a big moment in American history if a local person ran our national parks, wildlife, tribal relationships, and ancient sites,” said Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian who has written extensively on the presidents’ environmental records. “It will take a long time.”
Ms. Haaland was not seen as Mr. Biden’s first decision to head the agency. In the days following the election, he reportedly leaned on Senator Tom Udall, Democrat of New Mexico and longtime friend who spent his career preserving the wilderness, according to people close to the transition team.
But a coalition of Congressional Democrats, Native Americans, and Hollywood celebrities launched a campaign calling for Mr. Biden to appoint Ms. Haaland. Actor and environmental advocate Mark Ruffalo posted a video on Twitter of tribal leaders speaking in support of Ms. Haaland. And the Lakota People’s Law Action Center started a petition supported by more than 120 tribal leaders to support Ms. Haaland.
“More than a year before, 2020 has shown us what happens if we do not recognize the importance of empowering suitable leaders to protect society,” the petition said.
Ms. Haaland has made history once before. In 2018, she and Sharice Davids of Kansas became the first two Native American women to be elected to Congress.
Ms. Haaland campaigned against the tough immigration policy of the Trump administration in 2018 and promoted the sovereignty of the indigenous people as “New Mexicans of the 35th generation”. She has said that many of the problems that affect indigenous communities, such as low wage jobs and violence against women, affect other groups as well.
For the past two years, Ms. Haaland has served on the House Natural Resources Committee, which oversees the internal department.