* Was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2018 and 2020
* Joined the Congressional Progressive Caucus and the Democratic Women’s Caucus
* Was named as Secretary of the Interior by President-elect Biden in December 2020
* Views America as a racist nation
* Considers climate change an existential threat to the world
Debra “Deb” Haaland was born on December 2, 1960 in Winslow, Arizona. She graduated from the University of New Mexico (UNM) in 1994 with a bachelor’s degree in English and later obtained her J.D. from UNM’s law school in 2006. Haaland is a member of the Laguna Pueblo, a Native American tribe recognized by the U.S. federal government.
Haaland’s early professional experience included a stint during which she headed a small salsa company (producing and canning Pueblo Salsa) and served on the Board of Directors for the Laguna Development Corporation, which oversaw business operations for the Laguna Pueblo. She also worked as a tribal administrator for the San Felipe Pueblo in New Mexico.
Haaland volunteered in both the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections to boost Native American voter turnout in New Mexico for Democratic Party nominees John Kerry (2004) and Barack Obama (2008). In 2012, Haaland served as the Native American Vote Director for Obama’s reelection campaign in New Mexico. From 2012-2013, she was the Native American Caucus Chair for the New Mexico Democratic Party.
In 2014, Haaland ran as the Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor of New Mexico. But she and gubernatorial candidate Gary King were defeated handily in the general election by Republican counterparts John Sanchez and Susana Martinez. Following that election, Haaland chaired the New Mexico Democratic Party from 2015-2017.
In 2017, Haaland launched a campaign to represent New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. Running in a predominantly liberal district, she emphasized her leftist credentials with her support of Medicare for All, a $15 federal minimum wage, government-funded universal pre-K, all manner of Native American causes, and aggressive measures aimed at combatting climate change. Haaland also appeared at a Stop Kavanaugh rally, sponsored by People for the American Way, to oppose President Trump’s nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court in September 2018.
Haaland’s congressional campaign received the endorsements of such notable leftists as Barack Obama, Karen Bass, James Clyburn, Barbara Lee, Harry Reid, Hank Johnson, Pramila Jayapal, David Cicilline, Bonnie Watson Coleman, Ted Lieu, Cedric Richmond, Gregory Meeks, Lucille Roybal-Allard, and Gwen Moore. She was likewise endorsed by the Congressional Black Caucus, the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the National Organization for Women, the Working Families Party of New Mexico, the American Federation of Teachers New Mexico, 350 Action, and EMILY’s List.
During her time in the U.S. House, Haaland served as co-chair of the Native American Caucus and vice chair of the Equality Caucus. She was also a member of the Democratic Women’s Caucus and the Congressional Progressive Caucus. According to VoteSmart.org, Haaland was among the most leftwing members of Congress. Indeed, he voting record from 2019-2021 earned her 100% ratings from NARAL Pro-Choice America, the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the Human Rights Campaign, the NAACP, the National Education Association, the League of Conservation Voters, and the National Iranian American Council.
As a member of the U.S. House, Haaland:
In May 2018, after Israeli forces had shot armed Hamas terrorists who were attempting to breach the Gaza border and murder Jews inside Israel, Haaland tweeted: “The murder of 60 Palestinians in Gaza just as Ramadan begins weigh[s] heavy on my heart today. The youngest was just 8 months old.” She neglected to mention that nearly all of the casualties involved militants belonging to Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
In February 2019, then-congresswoman Haaland refused to acknowledge the anti-Semitic intent of Rep. Ilhan Omar’s infamous tweet which stated, “It’s all about the Benjamins [$100 bills], baby” – a slogan designed to suggest that the pro-Israel lobby organization AIPAC was guilty of paying U.S. politicians to take policy positions favorable to Israel.
In April 2020, Haaland announced on her website that she (along with ten others) had signed a letter demanding that Israel refrain from engaging in the “annexation” of land purportedly owned by the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria.
In January 2019, Haaland was outraged by an incident that occurred following a January 2019 anti-abortion “March For Life” rally in Washington, D.C., when numerous media outlets falsely accused a group of male student attendees from Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky — a few of whom were wearing “Make America Great Again” hats signifying their support for President Trump — of: (a) surrounding and menacing a nearby elderly Native American activist and self-proclaimed Vietnam War veteran named Nathan Phillips; (b) hurling racist chants at Phillips; (c) taunting a group of black men who were also in the vicinity; (d) shouting “It’s not rape if you enjoy it”; and (e) shouting “Build the wall!” (a reference to Trump’s proposed construction of a border wall). But video evidence subsequently showed that: (1) the Catholic youngsters had not made any of the offensive remarks originally attributed to them; (2) Phillips, who never actually served in Vietnam, had walked purposefully into the middle of the group of boys and stared down one of them while banging a drum and chanting just a few inches from the boy’s face; and (3) the nearby black men were in fact members of a racist, anti-Semitic cult known as the Black Hebrew Israelites, and they had been hurling racial and homophobic epithets at the boys.
Immediately after the highly publicized, and grossly misrepresented, encounter between the Covington boys and the Native American activist, Haaland said: “The students’ blatant display of hate, disrespect, and intolerance is a signal of how common decency has decayed under this [Trump] administration.” In August 2019, the parents of eight of the Covington Catholic students sued Haaland for defamation.
During a Democratic Weekly Address in May 2020, Rep. Haaland touted the provisions of the so-called Heroes Act, including its call, as Haaland phrased it, to “make mail-in voting available to all voters.”
On June 1, 2020 — a week after the infamous death of George Floyd in Minneapolis — Haaland and fellow congresswoman Sharice Davids (D – Kansas) released a joint statement “in solidarity with the Black community”:
“The pain our country feels is rooted in generations of institutional racism. We recognize that the anger in our communities is a sincere and justifiable reaction to the long-standing failure to reform those institutions — especially our criminal justice system. Even amid a global pandemic that is disproportionality impacting people of color, the circumstances are too much for many to bear silently or alone….Though we will never know the experience of being Black in America, we know that Indian Country stands in solidarity with our Black brothers and sisters—committed to fighting for justice and channeling our frustration into meaningful action and change. Together we can build a more equitable and just society—one that lives up to the ideals we expect of our nation.”
On behalf of the Joe Biden–Kamala Harris presidential ticket of 2020, Haaland, warning that “our Constitution is under attack,” urged Americans to register to vote and support Democrats in the November elections. Speaking during the final night of the 2020 Democratic National Convention, Haaland praised the “sacred” and “fundamental right to vote” as the means by which the American people could promote “social, racial, and environmental justice.”
Haaland easily won reelection to the U.S. House on November 3, 2020, when she captured 58% of the vote against Republican challenger Michelle Garcia Holmes.
In December 2020, President-elect Joe Biden selected Haaland to serve as his Secretary of the Interior. In this role, Haaland would be responsible for overseeing the maintenance and preservation of federal land and natural resources. The Biden-Harris team described Haaland as a “barrier-breaking public servant who has spent her career fighting for families, including in Tribal Nations, rural communities, and communities of color.” The U.S. Senate ventually confirmed Haaland as Interior Secretary in March 2021, by a vote of 51-40.
On her second full day in office, Secretary Haaland issued a statement condemning a spate of incidents where white racists and supremacists were allegedly carrying out “anti-Asian” violence in cities and towns across the United States: “While anti-Asian hate is unfortunately not new, we must acknowledge how xenophobic rhetoric throughout the pandemic has further inflamed anti-Asian racism, misogyny, and violence. The scale and frequency of targeted violence against communities of color is unacceptable and serves as a grim reminder that our long march toward peace and liberation persists.”
But as Wilfred Reilly of Commentary magazine pointed out in May 2021, whites had very little to do with whatever violence was being directed against Asians in America.
On March 31, 2021, Haaland’s office released a statement in which the Secretary commemorated the “Transgender Day of Visibility”:
“There is nothing more powerful in this world than the act of living openly, authentically, and safely. On this Trans Day of Visibility, we recognize the hard-fought victories won by and for the transgender community, honor the transgender loved ones we’ve lost along the way, and recommit to the struggle for full equality. Transgender people continue to face an unacceptable epidemic of violence and harmful discrimination in access to health care, employment, and housing. Trans people are our neighbors, our family, our friends, and our colleagues, and they deserve to live with dignity and to be treated fairly in every part of life. Today, and every day, we stand in solidarity with the transgender community as we both celebrate our progress and continue our long march toward liberation, peace, and equality.”
On April 16, 2021, Haaland announced that she was issuing orders to: (a) revoke a Trump-era policy that had promoted fossil fuel development on federal lands and waters, and (b) make climate change the top consideration in all future Interior Department decisions. The Associated Press reported:
“The orders revoke Trump-era directives that boosted coal, oil and gas leasing on federal lands and promoted what Trump called ‘energy dominance’ in the United States. Haaland also rescinded a Trump administration order intended to increase oil drilling in Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve.
“Haaland called the orders by her predecessors [at DOI], Ryan Zinke and David Bernhardt, ‘inconsistent with the department’s commitment to protect public health; conserve land, water, and wildlife; and elevate science.’ Collectively, the previous orders ’tilted the balance of public land and ocean management without regard for climate change, equity or community engagement,’ Haaland said.”
At the June 2021 midyear conference of the National Congress of American Indians, Haaland announced her plans for the Interior Department’s newly created “Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative.” The plan was adopted after the bodily remains of more than 200 Indian students had been found buried in the grounds of some 19th-century boarding schools located in British Columbia, Canada. That discovery caused Haaland and the Biden administration to resolve that the U.S. should investigate its own boarding schools that had housed Native Americans long ago. Said Haaland in the course of her speech:
“Another issue that is so personal to me is the devastating history of the U.S. government’s boarding school policies. Like many of you was, I was deeply impacted by the news of 215 Indigenous children found in a mass grave at a boarding school in Canada. I couldn’t help but think of their families…. I wept with the Indigenous members of our team here at Interior. Our communities are still mourning. The federal policies that attempted to wipe out Native identity, language and culture continued to manifest in the pain our communities face, including long-standing intergenerational trauma cycles of violence and abuse disappearance of Indigenous people, premature deaths, mental disorders, and substance abuse.
“But now for the first time, this country has a cabinet secretary who was Indigenous. I come from ancestors who endured the horrors of Indian boarding school. Assimilation policies carried out by the same department that I now lead the same agency that tried to eradicate our culture, our language, our spiritual practices, and our people. To address the intergenerational impact of Indian boarding schools and to promote spiritual and emotional healing in our communities, we must shed light on the unspoken traumas of the past, no matter how hard it will be.
“For more than a century, the Interior Department was responsible for operating the Indian boarding schools across the United States and its territories. We are therefore uniquely positioned to assist in the effort to recover the dark history of these institutions that have haunted our families for too long.
“It’s our responsibility. Today I’m announcing and sharing with you all — first — that the department will launch the federal Indian boarding school initiative. … We must uncover the truth about the loss of human life and the lasting consequences of these schools. This investigation will identify past boarding school facilities and sites, the location of known and possible burial sites located at or near school facilities, and the identities and tribal affiliations of children who were taken there.”
In June 2021 as well, Haaland authored an op-ed in the Washington Post in which she lamented the “tragic era” of 19th-century boarding schools through which Native Americans had suffered, and she claimed that her own maternal grandparents had been “stolen from their families.” Some excerpts:
On November 19, 2021, the Interior Department announced that it would take action to “remove derogatory names from federal lands.” “Racist terms have no place in our vernacular or on our federal lands,” said Haaland. “Our nation’s lands and waters should be places to celebrate the outdoors and our shared cultural heritage – not to perpetuate the legacies of oppression.” Specifically, Haaland ordered the removal of the term “squaw” — which the DOI [Department of the Interior] identified as an “offensive ethnic, racial, and sexist slur, particularly for Indigenous women.”
In June 2022, Haaland issued a Secretary’s Order to end the use of single-use plastic products – e.g., food and beverage containers, bottles, straws, cups, cutlery, and bags — on all public lands by the year 2032. Said Haaland: “The Interior Department has an obligation to play a leading role in reducing the impact of plastic waste on our ecosystems and our climate. As the steward of the nation’s public lands, including national parks and national wildlife refuges, and as the agency responsible for the conservation and management of fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats, we are uniquely positioned to do better for our Earth.”
On June 28, 2022, The Hill reported that the Biden administration was about to begin holding lease sales for new oil and gas drilling on public lands in seven Western states. The lease sale of 130,000 available acres in Wyoming was by far the largest, while all the others — in Montana, North Dakota, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, and Colorado — constituted just a tiny fraction of the Wyoming total. “The lease sales are not expected to immediately impact the country’s oil supply,” said The Hill, “since it takes more than four years on average from the time they acquire their leases for companies to begin producing oil.” The Biden administration’s only previous lease sale had been tossed in court because of environmental concerns.
Added The Hill: “When it announced the sales in April, the Interior Department said it was shrinking the overall land it was making available by 80 percent compared to the total amount of land it originally considered for the sale. The department also announced that it would hike fees that oil companies pay to the government for the oil they extract, raising royalty rates from the 12.5 percent imposed on previous sales to 18.75 percent for the new sales.” Said Interior Secretary Haaland at that time: “For too long, the federal oil and gas leasing programs have prioritized the wants of extractive industries above local communities, the natural environment, the impact on our air and water, the needs of Tribal Nations, and, moreover, other uses of our shared public lands.” “Today, we begin to reset how and what we consider to be the highest and best use of Americans’ resources for the benefit of all current and future generations,” she added.
Frank Macchiarola, the American Petroleum Institute’s senior vice president of policy, economics and regulatory affairs, said of the Biden administration’s decision to finally hold some lease sales: “We are concerned about the reduction in available parcels, we’re concerned about royalty rate increases, we’re concerned that the administration’s approach … is limited at a time when we really need something bold. … We’ve seen an unprecedented delay in oil and gas leasing.”