Debra Haaland was sworn in on March 18 as the Secretary of the Interior.
Haaland is an activist-turned-lawmaker who was among the women of color who won in the 2018 midterm race. She was one of two first Indigenous women ever to win a congressional seat. It is not just Haaland’s Native American identity which symbolizes progress, it is the racial and ethnic background in combination with politically progressive views which are antithetical to power and capital.
Republican opposition to her confirmation centered on Ms. Haaland’s history of fighting against oil and gas exploration. The deliberations around her nomination highlighted her emerging role in the public debates on climate change, energy policy and racial equity. In the Senate confirmation hearing Ms. Haaland was straightforward and said: “You have heard Native Americans refer to Earth as ‘Mother Earth’ so it is difficult to not feel obligated to protect this land”.
In the swearing in ceremony, Ms. Haaland’s dress triggered a flood of headlines. The skirt is a traditional Native garment with a variety of meanings often rooted in honoring the community’s heritage and symbolizing empowerment. The skirt was designed by Agnes Woodward form North Dakota and was made as a “celebration-style skirt”. The rainbow colors represent all people and the dark blue butterflies serve as an uplifting message, the cornstalk is a symbol of Haaland’s enrolled membership of the Pueblo of Laguna, a tribe in New Mexico. The shimmering four-pointed stars are Woodward’s addition symbolizing all one’s relatives looking down on them and signifies the connection Native people feel “to everything around us; that everything has a purpose; that everything that was created by the creator has a purpose”.