The Department of the Interior was essentially set up to tear down and disenfranchise Indigenous peoples, Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), the chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, argued in an interview with The New York Times. So a Native American leading the department in the Biden administration would be "to come full circle," he said.
There's a big push for Biden to name Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.), a citizen of the Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico, to the post, which the Times notes would "have undeniable symbolic power." If Haaland — or perhaps another Native American candidate like former Deputy Interior Secretary Michael Connor, who served in the Obama administration — were confirmed, it would mean that, for the first time in U.S. history, an Indigenous person would lead the department that oversee 500 million acres of public American land.
Per the Times, there are some people who are concerned Haaland, the popular choice, doesn't have the policy experience required for the role and would prefer Connor fill the post (a spokesman for President-elect Joe Biden's transition team said no personnel decisions have been made regarding the department), but if the job ultimately goes to either candidate, it would be historic.
"The Department of Interior was the driving force of modern day genocide against the Native American peoples," said Elizabeth Kronk Warner, dean and professor of law at the University of Utah, and a citizen of the Sault Ste. Marie tribe of Chippewa Indians. "We would be moving from the shadows of perpetuated genocide to a chair at the table, from being classified as a group of people that the federal government was trying to destroy to having a president say, 'I see you and value you to the point that I will raise you to the highest level of decision-making in the country.'" Read more at The New York Times.