Haaland OK'd at Interior, 1st Native American Cabinet head

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FILE - In this Feb. 23, 2021, file photo Interior Secretary nominee Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., speaks during her confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. On March 15, the Senate confirmed her as Interior Secretary. (Jim Watson/Pool via AP, File)

WASHINGTON – The Senate on Monday confirmed New Mexico Rep. Deb Haaland as interior secretary, making her the first Native American to lead a Cabinet department and the first to lead the federal agency that has wielded influence over the nation’s tribes for nearly two centuries.

Haaland was confirmed by a 51-40 vote, the narrowest margin yet for a Cabinet nomination by President Joe Biden. Four Republicans voted yes: Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

Democrats and tribal groups hailed Haaland’s confirmation as historic, saying her selection means that Indigenous people — who lived in North America before the United States was created — will for the first time see a Native American lead the powerful department where decisions on relations with the nearly 600 federally recognized tribes are made. Interior also oversees a host of other issues, including energy development on public lands and waters, national parks and endangered species.

“Rep. Haaland's confirmation represents a gigantic step forward in creating a government that represents the full richness and diversity of this country,'' said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

“Native Americans for far too long have been neglected at the Cabinet level and in so many other places,'' Schumer said.

Haaland, a member of the Laguna Pueblo and a 35th-generation resident of New Mexico, thanked hundreds of supporters at a virtual party hosted by Native American organizations.

Her confirmation shows that tribal members are “visible" and being taken seriously, Haaland said after the vote. “And no, it should not have taken more than 200 years for a Native person to take the helm at Interior, or even be a Cabinet secretary for that matter.”

Haaland said she was “ready to roll up my sleeves" so Interior can play its part in Biden's plan to “build back better” and “responsibly manage our natural resources to protect them for future generations.''