By Kenny Stancil
President-elect Joe Biden’s nomination of Democratic Rep. Deb Haaland to be Secretary of the Interior—the successful culmination of a campaign waged by a broad coalition of social and environmental justice advocates—was met with an abundance of applause last week.
Climate justice and Indigenous rights advocates commended the decision to put the progressive Native American congresswoman from New México in charge of the department overseeing 500 million acres of federal land—calling the move promising for the responsible development of clean energy infrastructure and for the reversal of the fossil fuel industry’s harmful legacy of extraction and pollution on land belonging to the U.S. public and tribal nations.
“This is a big deal,” tweeted Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). “Historic appointment. A visionary Native woman in charge of federal lands. Unequivocally progressive. Green New Deal champion. Exquisitely experienced. Sister, you are going to do such a great job. I am so proud of you and the movement.”
The NDN Collective extended their congratulations to Rep. Haaland. Earlier this month in a joint letter to the Biden-Harris transition team, NDN Collective and a coalition of 131 national organizations urged the Biden Administration to nominate Representative Deb. Haaland to lead the Department.
“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,” said Nick Tilsen, President and CEO of NDN Collective. “We are excited by Rep. Haaland’s appointment and look forward to having a representative who has insight into Indigenous issues and priorities, so Land Back organizers can uplift our policy solutions and help fuel systematic change that benefits all people and the planet.”
The Indigenous Environmental Network also applauded the nomination.
“Rep. Haaland will help facilitate the Biden/Harris vision for dealing with climate change, addressing the COVID-19 pandemic in Indian Country, ensuring an effective economic just recovery plan for Indian Tribes, Alaskan Natives and Native Hawaiians and communities, overseeing the protection of public lands, and fulfilling all treaty and statutory obligations,” stated the organization. “After nearly a century since an Indigenous person held a Cabinet level post, Representative Haaland’s nomination marks a historic moment, in which Indigenous Peoples are no longer rendered invisible.”
Anna Peterson, executive director of The Mountain Pact, an organization that works with local elected officials across the West on federal climate and public lands policies, said in a statement that “for the last four years the Department of Interior has sold off América’s public lands and natural resources to Secretary Bernhardt and [Bureau of Land Management defacto director] William Perry Pendley’s friends and former clients while draining the agencies of their experienced staff.”
“Our country is lucky,” Peterson said, adding that Haaland would “be able to correct so many wrongdoings from the Trump administration.”
Haaland—a member of the Pueblo of Laguna tribe who co-chairs the Native American Caucus and has represented New México’s 1st congressional district since 2019—has been a strong voice on the House Natural Resources Committee.
The Democratic lawmaker is also leading congressional efforts to accomplish the goals set forth in the Thirty by Thirty Resolution to conserve at least 30% of the ocean and 30% of the land within the U.S. by 2030.
The nomination also garnered praise from Nikki Pitre, executive director of the Center for Native American Youth. “The nomination of Representative Deb Haaland to lead the Department of Interior is historic, groundbreaking, and a proud moment for Indian Country,” stated Pitre. “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.”
Varshini Prakash, co-founder and executive director of the Sunrise Movement, called Haaland “a perfect choice.”
Haaland “is a fierce ally of our movement who has fought for renewable energy job creation in the House and was one of the first congressmembers to endorse the vision for a Green New Deal,” Prakash added. “With a progressive leader at the helm, we can make real progress on stopping climate change and ensure sovereignty and dignity for all native people and justice for all.”
“Haaland’s appointment gives us a voice in a Department that has long been responsible for our exploitation.”
Nick Tilsen, NDN Collective
Food and Water Watch policy director Mitch Jones joined the chorus of praise, pointing out that “hundreds of progressive organizations and climate activist groups have rallied to support Deb Haaland as the next interior secretary because she has the record and the expertise to protect our public lands.”
“Most importantly,” Jones added, “Haaland has been clear about her commitment to ending the exploitation of public lands by fossil fuel corporations, which over the last four years were given a green light to pollute and profiteer off of land that should be managed in the public interest.”
Chris Hill, acting director of Sierra Club’s Our Wild America campaign, stated their support for Haaland. “We’re confident Rep. Haaland can reset the Department of the Interior. Over the last four years, the department’s exclusive focus on polluter profits and deeply-embedded culture of corruption has left much to repair, both within the agency and on the ground,” said Hill. “We look forward to a transformation in how our country’s lands and waters are used and managed–prioritizing Indigenous–led conservation, making public lands a part of the climate solution, and integrating equity into decision making at every level.”
President-elect Joe Biden also announced key nominations and appointments of his climate team: Governor Jennifer Granholm, Secretary of Energy; Michael Regan, EPA Administrator; Brenda Mallory, Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality; Administrator Gina McCarthy, National Climate Advisor; and Ali Zaidi, Deputy National Climate Advisor.
“This brilliant, tested, trailblazing team will be ready on day one to confront the existential threat of climate change with a unified national response rooted in science and equity,” said President-elect Joe Biden. “They share my belief that we have no time to waste to confront the climate crisis, protect our air and drinking water, and deliver justice to communities that have long shouldered the burdens of environmental harms. Together, on behalf of all Americans, they will meet this moment with the urgency it demands — and seize the opportunity to build back better with good-paying union jobs, climate-resilient infrastructure, and a clean energy future that benefits every single community.”
Kenny Stancil is a staff writer with CommonDreams. The Weekly Issue/El Semanario contributed to this article.
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