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Who is Secretary Deb Haaland?

Deb Haaland is a member of the Pueblo of Laguna and has Jemez Pueblo heritage. She is one of the first Native women to serve in Congress, and as the Secretary of the Interior, she is the first Native person to serve in a presidential cabinet position.

Secretary Haaland’s story is unique, but relatable. She grew up in a military family. Her father was a Marine who was awarded the Silver Star Medal, and her mother is a Navy veteran who worked for 25 years in Indian education. On her mother’s side, her grandparents were Indian boarding school survivors. In a TEDxABQ talk Secretary Haaland describes how her grandfather told her family “Assimilation would not get the better of [her].”

Through high school and most of her 20’s, Secretary Haaland worked at a bakery in Albuquerque. However, at 28, she decided to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in English at the University of New Mexico. In 1994, just four days after graduating, she gave birth to her child, Somáh.

Haaland struggled as a single mother but made the best of her circumstances. She lived paycheck-to-paycheck, relied on food stamps, and at times, stayed with friends for housing. She also worked to heal from alcohol addiction and started her own salsa company, Pueblo Salsa, which she eventually sold so she could attend the University of New Mexico Law School.

After receiving her law degree, she returned to her Tribal community. She became the first Chairwoman elected to the Laguna Development Corporation Board of Directors. She then served as a tribal administrator for the San Felipe Pueblo. By 2017, she decided to run for New Mexico’s 1st District U.S. Representative seat. Along with Representative Sharice Davids, the two women became the first Native women to ever serve in Congress.

During her time as a twice-elected Congresswoman, Haaland was a force for Native Country, passing bills focused on improving the lives and providing economic opportunities for Native families. When President Joe Biden won the 2020 election, it came as no surprise when Haaland was nominated as Secretary of the Interior. The Interior Department oversees much of the public land management, animal conservation, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

In her farewell address to Congress she said, “Growing up, Native women rarely held federal leadership positions and now little girls everywhere will know they can run for office and win. And that this country holds promise for everyone.”

Like all of us, Secretary Haaland is a culmination of her ancestors’ and her own experiences. These experiences have guided her in the work she does now to promote environmentally conscious policy, protect public lands, and advocate for our missing and murdered relatives.

To learn more about Secretary Haaland check out these resources:

Originally from Oklahoma, Summer Lewis is a Muscogee and Seminole woman who works in Tribal public health. Summer is an MPH student at the University of California-Berkeley who will graduate in 2023. She enjoys baking, beading, and being outdoors. 

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