CLAIM: Rep. Deb Haaland (D-NM) would be the “first Native American to serve as a Cabinet secretary.”
VERDICT: MOSTLY TRUE. The first Native American member of the Cabinet — though not a “secretary” — was Republican Vice President Charles Curtis.
President-elect Joe Biden announced Thursday that Haaland would be his pick for Secretary of the Interior.
Axios reported: “Haaland, 60, would be the first Native American to serve as a Cabinet secretary, leading the department that oversees the federal government’s relationship with 567 federally recognized tribes and 1.9 million American Indians and Alaska Natives.”
It is true that she would be the first Cabinet secretary. But Vice President Curtis, a Republican who served under President Herbert Hoover, was actually the first Native American member of the Cabinet.
The Washington Post noted last month — in noting that Curtis, not Kamala Harris, was the first Vice President “of color”:
Curtis’s mother was a Native American who belonged to the Kaw Nation, and he was raised on a reservation by his maternal grandparents, where he spoke the Indigenous language and lived in a tepee.
Curtis moved with his grandparents to the main reservation, where he lived until he was 9 or 10. His first language was Kanza, and he recalled later, “I had my bows and arrows and joined the other boys in shooting arrows at nickels, dimes, and quarters which visitors would place in split sticks.”
In his teen years, he was sent back to Topeka to live with his paternal grandparents, who wanted to “civilize” him, but he rebelled. Having spent his youth riding bareback, he soon became a locally famous horse jockey, called “The Indian Boy” or “Indian Charley.”
In 1928, he put himself forward as a candidate for president, but had to settle for Herbert Hoover’s running mate. As vice president, he decorated his office with Native American artifacts and regularly met with tribal leaders.
The Post observed that Curtis was rarely invited to Cabinet meetings. He was, however, part of the Cabinet. He was also the first Native American elected to the Senate.
Biden has been credited with a number of other “firsts” that turn out, on closer reflection, not to be quite so original.
He received acclaim for appointing an all-female White House communications team, though President Donald Trump’s communications team is also led by an all-female senior staff.
On Wednesday, he picked Pete Buttigieg to be Secretary of Transportation, making him potentially the first gay man to be confirmed by the Senate to Cabinet position. However, Trump had already named Richard Grenell to the post of Acting Director of National Intelligence, making him the first gay Cabinet member.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News and the host of Breitbart News Sunday on Sirius XM Patriot on Sunday evenings from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. PT). His newest e-book is Neither Free nor Fair: The 2020 U.S. Presidential Election. His recent book, RED NOVEMBER, tells the story of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary from a conservative perspective. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.