Government

Osage officials laud Deb Haaland’s historic confirmation as Interior Secretary

Photo caption: Deb Haaland is now serving as the 54th Secretary of the Interior making her the first Native American to serve as a Cabinet secretary with Indian Country. Courtesy Photo/U.S. Department of Interior

Former U.S. Congresswoman Deb Haaland is now serving as the 54th Secretary of the Interior making her the first Native American to serve as a Cabinet secretary with Indian Country, including Osage Nation officials, celebrating and taking note of the historic event.

Nominated by President Joe Biden, Haaland received a 51-40 Senate confirmation vote on March 15 at approximately 6:20 p.m. local time. The next day, Haaland was sworn in during a small private ceremony. The former Democrat lawmaker then started her first day on the job March 17 and took a ceremonial swearing-in the next day with Vice President Kamala Harris administering the oath.

Haaland, who is a member of the Laguna Pueblo and a 35th generation New Mexican, wore a blue ribbon skirt with butterfly and corn designs, as well as her people’s traditional moccasins and turquoise jewelry. She is a University of New Mexico law school graduate, who previously ran her own business and worked as a tribal administrator before making history as one of the first two Native American women elected to Congress in 2018. Haaland won a second Congressional term in the 2020 election but resigned her U.S. House seat to take on the Interior Secretary duties. 

“Thank you to the U.S. Senate for your confirmation vote today,” Haaland said on her Twitter account following the vote. “As Secretary of Interior, I look forward to collaborating with all of you. I am ready to serve #BeFierce.”

Indian Country immediately issued best wishes and celebratory remarks online for Haaland once the confirmation vote was final, including ON officials.

ON Congressional Speaker Angela Pratt reacted stating on Facebook that she cried tears of joy following the vote. “Praise God! I just can’t explain what this means to Native people and in particular to me as a Native woman. Congratulations, Congresswoman Deb Haaland on the confirmation of your appointment as Secretary of the Department of the Interior. Madam Secretary! Glass everywhere! Lulululululululu!”

Pratt also noted March is Women’s History Month in her legislative message at the start of the 2021 ON Congressional Hun-Kah Session on March 29 and acknowledged Haaland’s confirmation again and added the United States now has Harris serving as its first female vice president.   

In December 2020, Biden nominated Haaland as his pick for Interior Secretary. Osage Congressman Billy Keene reacted on Facebook stating: “Finally, someone with a keen understanding of tribal sovereignty will head the Department of the Interior. It’s a good day for Indian people and Tribal Governments.”

In a March 20 NPR story on Haaland’s confirmation hearings held earlier this year with the Senate, she “nodded to the fact that the department she now leads was historically used as a tool of oppression toward tribes. ‘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 quoting an Interior report from 1851, under then-Secretary Alexander H.H. Stuart. ‘I'm a living testament to the failure of that horrific ideology.’ Haaland (made history) by becoming the first Indigenous Interior secretary. She's promising to begin repairing a legacy of broken treaties and abuses committed by the federal government toward tribes. It's one pillar of a long and ambitious to-do list of reforms the administration is planning at the sprawling agency that is the federal government's most direct contact with the nation's 574 federally recognized — and sovereign — tribes.”

Osage Minerals Councilwoman Marsha Harlan celebrated the March 15 confirmation on her Facebook page stating: “BE FIERCE like Deb Haaland. We are still here, and we will not be extinguished.”

Osage Minerals Councilwoman Margo Gray exclaimed: “What a day! Congratulations Madam Secretary Deb Haaland! Watching a celebratory Zoom with my Indigenous Sisters across the country!”

Congresswoman Paula Stabler shared a photo of Haaland’s March 18 swearing-in on her Facebook page and called the event “The hopes and prayers of 500 nations.”

In a March 16 joint statement, Osage Congressmen Eli Potts and Joe Tillman expressed congratulatory remarks to Haaland as well. “Secretary Haaland is supported by so many, and I am optimistic about the relationships and experience she takes with her to the Department of Interior. I wish the Secretary nothing but success. I am disappointed, however, that the Osage Nation was not a signatory to a letter from Oklahoma Tribal Leaders urging Oklahoma’s Senators to support Haaland’s confirmation,” Potts said in the statement.

Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear said he sent a separate letter on behalf of the Nation to Republican Sens. Jim Inhofe and James Lankford, urging they support Haaland’s appointment.

“Fortunately, the majority of the Senate voted in her favor. She’s got a big job ahead of her and not only is she head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, but Fish and Wildlife, Bureau of Land Management, national parks, and a lot of other important Interior department positions,” Standing Bear said. “I’m watching who she’s hiring for her top staff and we have our Washington D.C. lawyer watching that for us as well.”

Sens. Inhofe and Lankford joined the 38 GOP Senators who voted against Haaland’s confirmation. Four Republican senators joined the 45 Democrats and two Independents who voted for Haaland’s confirmation.

In a statement from Lankford’s office opposing the confirmation, he said Haaland’s “legislative record and testimony demonstrate her commitment to an unrealistic energy reality.” In his own statement, Inhofe said: “While I greatly respect and appreciate the significance that she will be the first Native American cabinet secretary, her radical, anti-fossil fuels background is extremely concerning for all Oklahomans.” 

Osage Congressman Tillman stated regarding Haaland’s office: “I see this as an important position, not only as a Cabinet official but as a Leader for Tribal Nations throughout the United States. Each of us will have business before Secretary Haaland and it will be good to see a Native American woman and sovereignty supporter at the same table.”

During the March 17 OMC meeting, Chairman Everett Waller said he spoke recently with NPR regarding Haaland’s confirmation and said “we’re in full support of her, I feel like we have to give her the availability to hear what we have. I think it’s going to be instrumental in her position and strength because she will recognize our sovereignty.”

The day after her confirmation, Haaland issued a comment on the historic moment: “At my confirmation hearing, I said that we all have a stake in the future of our country. No matter your political party or ZIP code, your ancestral heritage or income level, we all must take the formidable challenges that lie ahead seriously, and we will take them head-on, together. I am proud and humbled to lead the dedicated team at Interior as we seek to leave a livable planet for future generations. Together, we will work to advance President Biden’s vision to honor our nation-to-nation relationship with Tribes, address the climate and nature crises, advance environmental justice, and build a clean energy future that creates good-paying jobs and powers our nation. The change we need will take hard work and perseverance, but I know that together there is nothing we cannot accomplish.”