Jodi Rave: Natives on Obama transition team
"As President-elect Barack Obama appoints a new team of cabinet members and fills other key federal work posts, he's named six Native people to his transition team - half of them assigned to assist in Interior Department policy, budget and personnel changes.

“We're lucky to have such stellar representatives with people with whom Indian Country has really good relationships,” said Jacqueline Johnson-Pata, executive director of the National Congress of American Indians, a nonprofit organization that represents more than 250 tribes.

So far, Mary Smith, Mary McNeil and Yvette Robideaux have been assigned to work on justice, agriculture and health issues, while three current and former attorneys with the Native American Rights Fund - John Echohawk, Keith Harper and Robert Anderson - will advise Obama on changes proposed within the Interior Department. As advisers to the Interior transition team, the Indian law experts could inspire a significant transformation within the department's Indian trust fund system, an organizational debacle that has been subject to 12 years of litigation during the Cobell vs. Kempthorne suit.

“This is our last big chance to get a lot of things done,” said Elouise Cobell, the lead plaintiff from Montana's Blackfeet Nation in the class action lawsuit. “It's like a broken record every time we have a hearing. Nothing really happens. Maybe if we get the right people in these positions, we can all work together: the tribes, Congress and the administration.”

The Native American Rights Fund, a tribal justice and legal rights organization based in Boulder, Colo., has helped represent a half-million Native landowners in the Cobell suit. Landowners claim Interior Department agency officials - including the Office of Special Trustee, Bureau of Land Management, Minerals Management Service and Bureau of Indian Affairs - have mismanaged billions of dollars of their income earned from sales of timber, oil and gas, and grazing leases."

Get the Story:
Obama appoints Native officials to transition team (The Missoulian 11/20)

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