Deb Haaland made history on Tuesday by becoming one of the first Native American woman elected to Congress.
Haaland, a member of the Pueblo of Laguna and the former chair of the New Mexico state Democratic Party, won New Mexico’s blue-leaning First Congressional District on Tuesday night. She joins Kansas Democrat Sharice Davids; they are the first two Native American women going to Congress. The two women will join the ranks of just two more Native American Congress members: Republican Reps. Markwayne Mullin and Tom Cole, both of Oklahoma.
In an interview with Vox this summer, Haaland reflected on all the hard work that brought her to this point.
“I think we’ve been working toward this for a long time,” she told me. “Just because you’re the first Native woman doesn’t mean you get any breaks. ... It’s not something that’s freely given.”
Now that she’s in Congress, Haaland wants to give Native Americans more representation on crucial issues, including the environment and health care.
“I don’t know if it’s actual legislation as much as it is just really advocating to make sure that Congress recognizes the fact that the United States has a trust responsibility to Indian tribes,” she told Vox. “So at every possible opportunity, I’ll work really hard to make sure tribal leaders have a seat at the table when there’s issues of importance.”
While Haaland is focused on progressive issues like Medicare-for-all and a $15 minimum wage, she says she is most passionate about the environment and promoting clean, renewable energy. The historic drought and consistent snow shortages in her state over the past few years, she said, are evidence enough of dramatic climate change.
And she wants the federal government to do something about it.
“I think it’s the government’s job to work at finding a way for folks to move forward with that, in spite of the fact that a lot of folks are poor here. The future of our planet depends on us doing whatever we can right now. And instead of us giving the richest people $1.5 trillion [in] tax cuts, I really feel like we could have paid for some renewable energy infrastructure,” she said.
This is an issue on which there will likely be divides between Democrats in Congress and the White House. But Haaland says she’ll continue to focus on it. “If we don’t have our Earth, we don’t have anything,” she said. “I am going to always talk about that.”