It's been easy over this past year to be laser focused on the calamities presenting themselves most urgently: the coronavirus pandemic and the push for racial equality, to name just the top two. But lurking in the backs of our minds throughout this time of crisis has been the issue that is not just ours, but that of our children and grandchildren. We are talking about the issue of environmental protection, and the need to come together to forge a new path that meets human needs while also mitigating our impact on the planet. On top of the type of healing our nation and globe have needed over the past year comes a need for a longer-lasting type of healing. It is with all of that in mind that we issue a "glass slipper"—our occasional nod to things going well in our corner of the world—for the confirmation of Rep. Deb Haaland, a Laguna Pueblo woman, as Secretary of the Interior.
As has been widely noted this week, Haaland is the first Indigenous woman to hold a position in a presidential cabinet, which makes the confirmation historic in itself. As our nation grapples with all of its history around racial issues, Haaland's confirmation represents a turning toward collective healing, toward a leadership structure that brings a myriad of voices to the table. Haaland stands in stark contrast to the makeup of the past administration's cabinet and its Interior Secretary, who not only ignored the environmental degradation to which we are now bearing witness, but also made moves to make it worse—including opening up drilling in the Artic National Wildlife Refuge of Alaska.
Where some see only economic benefit and opportunity from the extraction of oil, gas, minerals and other resources on the United States' vast swaths of public land, others see those lands as our last remaining oases, for which we have a responsibility to be their caretakers, not exploiters. As an enrolled tribal member, Haaland can lead the charge to foster the latter belief. This is significant for a state like Oregon, which has 61 million acres of public land—about 53% of the total land mass of the state. Deschutes County is among the Oregon counties with the most public land, representing close to 78% of the total land in the county.
"Secretary Haaland's lifetime of service demonstrates her strong commitment to defending our public lands and waters—natural treasures that make countless contributions to the spirit and vitality of communities and local economies throughout Oregon and across America," commented Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley, who is Chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee that funds the Interior Department. "At a time when climate chaos is fueling more catastrophic wildfires, deadly winter storms, extreme droughts, and powerful hurricanes, that kind of responsible environmental stewardship couldn't be more important to the health and safety of our families."
Throughout her career, Haaland has also raised awareness about the challenges faced by Indigenous people in North America and around the world, and we can expect more of that in her new leadership role.
As she said herself during her opening remarks to the Senate, "We all have a stake in the future of our country, and I believe that every one of us, Republicans, Democrats and independents, shares a common bond, our love for the outdoors, and a desire and obligation to keep our nation livable for future generations."
This is a meaningful moment in our history, and one we hope is only the beginning of a turn toward a more equitable and just America.