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Senate confirms Kevin Washburn as Assistant Secretary at BIA

The Senate on Saturday confirmed Kevin Washburn as the new Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs.

Washburn, a member of the Chickasaw Nation, will now be in charge of the Bureau of Indian Affairs for the remainder of the Obama administration. If President Barack Obama wins re-election, he'll be staying on board as part of a slightly revamped Indian team at the Interior Department.

“There is a positive agenda in the administration and at the department and I’m looking forward to seeing how I fit into that agenda,” Washburn, the outgoing dean at University of New Mexico Law School, told The Albuquerque Journal after he was confirmed.

The confirmation represents one of the fasted turnarounds for an Assistant Secretary in recent history. After being nominated on August 2, Washburn went before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee on September 14 and was approved for action on the Senate floor on September 20.

“Although it is not an easy job, I am confident that Kevin Washburn will work hard to insure the United States meets its trust responsibility to our Indigenous nations and advance the principles of self-determination and self-governance. I look forward to working closely with him during the remainder of the 112th Congress to ensure parity in federal policies toward this Nation’s first peoples – American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians,” Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), the chairman of the committee, said on Saturday.

The quick action ensures the BIA wasn't left without a leader for long. Larry Echo Hawk, a member of the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma who left the post in April after three years, was the longest serving assistant secretary since the Clinton era -- the position saw two lengthy vacancies during the Bush era.

“As we continue to strengthen the integrity of the nation’s government-to-government relationship with federally-recognized Indian tribes and empower Native American and Alaska Native communities, Kevin Washburn will be an outstanding addition to our leadership team and a vital asset for President Obama’s initiatives in Indian Country,” Interior Secretary Salazar said in a press release. “Kevin’s professional and academic achievements and his thorough knowledge of the critical issues facing the Nation’s First Americans will help us to fulfill the President’s commitment to empower tribal governments and advance their economic and social goals.”

Since Salazar came on board in January 2009, there have been few major changes in the Indian affairs leadership at DOI. Besides Echo Hawk, the only significant departure came from Jodi Gillette, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe who went back to work at the White House, where she started three years ago.

Washburn, who last worked in Washington, D.C., about a decade ago, has won praise for his efforts to advance law enforcement, trust, gaming, sovereignty and other issues affecting Indian Country. He helped draft the Tribal law and Order Act, which became law in July 2009, and was an assistant federal prosecutor in New Mexico before he worked at the National Indian Gaming Commission as its general counsel.

“The Navajo Nation looks forward to working with Assistant Secretary Washburn on advancing issues of importance to Indian country,” Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly said on Saturday.

Of the last five assistant secretaries, three have been members of Oklahoma tribes and a fourth has a direct tie to an Oklahoma tribe.

Get the Story:
U.S. Senate Confirms UNM Law Dean for Indian Affairs Post (The Albuquerque Journal 9/22)

Committee Notice:
The President's Nomination of Kevin K. Washburn to be Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs, Department of the Interior (September 14, 2012)

Relevant Documents:
White House Announcement | Letter to Law School | UNM Press Release | DOI Press Release | Sen. Bingaman | Sen. Tom Udall

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