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What Debra Haaland’s confirmation as interior secretary means to Native Americans

March 10, 2021


Debra Haaland’s confirmation in the U.S. Senate Monday as secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior makes her the first-ever Native American to serve as a Cabinet secretary. She’ll oversee energy and climate policy on millions of acres of public land, as well as the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

  • The Department 0f the Interior has a broad range of responsibilities, from managing federally owned land such as National parks and wildlife refuges, to regulating oil and mineral extraction on public land, to managing federal government relationships with Native American reservations.
  • Timothy Nuvangyaoma, chairman of the Hopi Tribe in Arizona, uses the example of cleaning up unsafe levels of arsenic in the drinking water of his community as an action Haaland can take to help Native American communities.


Five Facts

  1. What are some of the ways Haaland’s appointment is historic?
  2. Who is Debra Haaland and what is her personal and professional background?
  3. Why does it matter to the man interviewed in this video that Haaland was appointed?
  4. When and Where was Haaland confirmed as Secretary of the Interior?
  5. How does the work of the Department of the Interior affect the lives of people living on reservations?

Focus Questions

Why do you think it’s taken until now for the country to appoint a Native American Secretary of the Interior, even though managing relationships with Native American reservations is a major part of the job?

Do you think appointing a Native American woman is important mostly for its symbolic value, or do you think Haaland’s appointment will lead to other changes as well? If so, what sort of changes?

Media literacy: Who else might you want to hear from to better understand the significance of this appointment?

For More

Debra Haaland has referred to herself as a “35th generation New Mexican,” meaning her roots to her community in what is now New Mexico go back almost 1,000 years. Her confirmation is part of an often untold larger story of Native American women contributing to democracy in America.

To learn more, and to help celebrate Women’s History month, read about the Iroquois Constitution and the ways it inspired the U.S. Constitution, as well as the fight for women’s rights through generations. You can also browse our site Journalism in Action, which covers the history of journalism in America through multimedia resources.