United States President-elect Joe R Biden on Thursday nominated Deb Haaland, a Congressional representative from New Mexico and a Native American, to lead the country’s Interior Department, AP reported.

Haaland would become the country’s first Native American Cabinet secretary, and also the first indigenous person to lead the department, whose jurisdiction includes tribal lands.

“It would be an honor to move the Biden-Harris climate agenda forward, help repair the government-to-government relationship with Tribes that the Trump Administration has ruined, and serve as the first Native American cabinet secretary in our nation’s history,” Haaland said in a statement, according to The New York Times.

The 60-year-old New Mexico representative is a member of the Laguna Pueblo, one of the 574 federally recognised tribes in the United States. Haaland once made history in 2018 as one of the first two Native American women ever elected to the US Congress.

The role of interior secretary would put her in charge of an agency that employs more than 70,000 people across United States and oversees more than 20% of the nation’s public lands, including tribal lands, mineral wealth, wildlife and national parks like Yellowstone and Yosemite, Reuters reported.

Haaland, who likes to refer to herself as “a 35th-generation resident of New Mexico”, had campaigned against outgoing President Donald Trump administration’s hard-line immigration policies in 2018. She attended 13 public schools before graduating from high school, then started a salsa company and worked as a cake decorator before going to college and law school, according to The New York Times.

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Tribal leaders and activists around the country, along with many Democratic leaders, cheered Haaland’s selection.

Speaker of the House of Representatives Democrat Nancy Pelosi described Haaland as one of the most respected members of Congress, BBC reported. Fellow progressive Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez praised her nomination as “historic on multiple levels”. “She brings a commitment to climate and justice to the position, and the historic weight of having a Native woman, no less a progressive one, in charge of federal lands is enormous,” Cortez said.

“With Haaland’s nomination, Indigenous people will for the first time in their lifetimes see a Native American at the table where the highest decisions are made – and so will everyone else,” OJ Semans, a Rosebud Sioux vote activist, told AP. “It’s made people aware that Indians still exist.”

If confirmed by the US Senate, Haaland would step down from her seat in the US House, where Democrats are already facing a slim majority after losing seats in the 2020 election. Some on Biden’s transition team had also expressed concerns about the dipping numbers.

But Biden said he had assembled a “brilliant, tested, trailblazing team” that “will be ready on day one to confront the existential threat of climate change”.

“They share my belief that we have no time to waste to confront the climate crisis, protect our air and drinking water, and deliver justice to communities that have long shouldered the burdens of environmental harms,” the president-elect said in a statement.

Biden plans to introduce Haaland and other picks for his Cabinet at an event Saturday in Wilmington, Delaware.