WASHINGTON — A coalition of Democrats, Native Americans and liberal activists is urging President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. to nominate one of Congress’s first Native American women to head the Interior Department, putting an American Indian in control of vast swathes of the continent and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
The nomination of Representative Deb Haaland, Democrat of New Mexico, as Interior secretary would have undeniable symbolic power. If confirmed, a Native American for the first time would oversee 500 million acres of public lands, including national parks, oil and gas drilling sites, and endangered species habitat, and control the federal agencies most responsible for the well-being of the nation’s 1.9 million Indigenous people.
Ms Haaland and Sharice Davids of Kansas made history in 2018 as the first two Native American women elected to Congress, and Ms. Haaland would do so again as the first Native American cabinet secretary. But her lack of policy experience worries some Biden advisers, who have suggested another Native American candidate: Michael L. Connor, a deputy Interior secretary in the Obama administration, whose experience is unquestioned, even if he lacks the star power of Ms. Haaland.
Ms. Haaland is a citizen of the Laguna Pueblo, and Mr. Connor is from the Taos Pueblo, sovereign nations near Albuquerque and Taos that are among the country’s 574 federally recognized tribes.
For either candidate, a nomination would hold enormous power for Native Americans. The Interior Department has for much of the nation’s history governed federal lands and often dislodged and abused Native Americans. In 1972, about 500 Native American activists took over