Haaland confirmed to lead Interior; Alaska senators vote yes

A woman with long hair and glasses sits at a table
Deb Haaland (Screenshot from Senate Energy Committee video)

Both of Alaska’s U.S. Senators joined Democrats in voting to confirm Deb Haaland as Interior secretary Monday. The vote was 51-40.

Haaland is the first Native American cabinet secretary. She has tremendous support among Alaska Natives and across Indian Country.

Alaska Congressman Don Young, who worked with Haaland on the House Resources Committee, also endorsed her confirmation.

But members of Congress from other oil states opposed Haaland, pointing out that she has rallied against pipeline construction and resource extraction on federal land.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski said Haaland will hear from her on Alaska issues frequently.

“I wish that I could say, ‘Yes, I’ve got every degree of confidence.’ I don’t,” she said in an interview after the vote. “So my obligation is to make sure that I am on top of this all the time.”

Murkowski said she impressed on Haaland when they met that she will have to embrace all parts of the job of leading the Interior Department. 

“Which is not only the American Indian, Alaskan Native, Native Hawaiian portfolio. It is management of all of our nation’s public lands, our resources,” Murkowski said. “And so there is a significant responsibility that comes with this position. And my hope is that she’s able to rise to that.”

Murkowski and Sen. Dan Sullivan were among only four Republican senators to support Haaland. The others are Susan Collins of Maine and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

Alaska tribal organizations applauded her confirmation. So did Alaska Native corporations. Many of the corporations are involved in the business of resource extraction. Their congratulations were tempered.

“While we share differing views on key matters impacting Alaskan Natives, it was encouraging to see the secretary recognize the nuances of Alaska’s tribal organizations and the important services Alaska Native corporations provide,” reads a joint statement from the ANCSA Regional Association and the Alaska Native Village Corporation Association.

The Native corporation groups said they “look forward to holding Secretary Haaland to these important acknowledgements.”

Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent at Alaska Public Media. Reach her atlruskin@alaskapublic.org. Read more about Lizhere.

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