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Biden Pick Would Break a 245-Year String

Native American has never overseen US policy with tribes
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Dec 17, 2020 3:38 PM CST

(Newser) – President-elect Joe Biden plans to nominate New Mexico Rep. Deb Haaland as interior secretary, a historic pick that would make her the first Native American to lead the agency that has wielded influence over the nation's tribes for generations, per the AP. Tribal leaders and activists around the country, along with many Democratic figures, have urged Biden for weeks to choose Haaland. They stood behind her candidacy even when concerns that Democrats might risk their majority in the House if Haaland yielded her seat in Congress appeared to threaten her nomination. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made it clear Wednesday that Biden had her support in choosing Haaland, calling her "one of the most respected and one of the best members of Congress."

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Haaland, 60, is a member of the Laguna Pueblo and a 35th-generation resident of New Mexico. As interior secretary, she'd be in charge of an agency that not only has tremendous sway over the nearly 600 federally recognized tribes but also over much of the nation’s vast public lands, waterways, wildlife, national parks, and mineral wealth. The pick breaks a 245-year record of non-Native officials, mostly male, serving as the very top federal official over American Indian affairs. The federal government often worked to dispossess them of their land and, until recently, to assimilate them into white culture. Haaland is one of the first two Native American women elected to the House.

(Read more Department of the Interior stories.)

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