GREAT FALLS — By a vote of 51-40 in the U.S. Senate on Monday, Deb Haaland became the first-ever Native American to lead a cabinet department as she was confirmed to be the new Secretary of the Interior.
Haaland had been serving as a U.S. Representative for New Mexico.
"This is really a major step for all Indian people,” said James McNeeley, Blackfeet Tribe public information officer. McNeeley said he hopes to see Haaland focus on building a good relationship between the U.S. Government and tribes across the country.
"Perhaps visiting personally or inviting tribal leaders to come see her or visa versa, her coming out to see them, and giving her that list of what we would like, that wish list that all tribes have. Wanting to see what the priorities are in each community , of course education, housing, healthcare, economic development, employment opportunities, just to name a few,” McNeeley explained.
MT State Representative Jonathan Windy Boy, who is also the Rocky Boy Tribe's Historic Preservation Officer, said his initial reaction to Haaland's confirmation was, 'It's about time.' However, he also said he would've preferred that Haaland stayed in Congress: "The President needs her vote, but this just gives the incentive for Indian Country to move forward and fill as many of these positions as possible."
Windy Boy said he would like to see the Bureau of Indian Affairs be Haaland's number one priority: "There's a lot of things that could be done. Indian Country has been so underfunded over the years, around 50 percent of the total need in Indian Country."
During her confirmation hearing in February, Haaland said her confirmation would be an important step for all Americans. "If an indigenous woman from humble beginnings can be confirmed as Secretary of the Interior, our country holds promise for everyone,” said Haaland.
CBS News reports that Haaland earned a bachelor's degree in English from the University of New Mexico, and a J.D. in Indian Law from University of New Mexico School of Law. Before she was elected to Congress in 2018, Haaland served as the tribal administrator for the San Felipe Pueblo and then chaired New Mexico's state Democratic Party.
Montana's two U.S. Senators split on her confirmation, with Steve Daines voting against it, and Jon Tester voting in favor.