Jim Cason, the Associate Deputy Secretary of the Department of the Interior, at the mid-year session of the National Congress of American Indians on June 13, 2017. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Top official blamed for 'Thursday night massacre' at Interior Department

A top Department of the Interior official is being blamed for a "Thursday night massacre" in which dozens of employees -- including the highest-ranking Indian Affairs officials -- were reassigned by the Trump administration.

According to The New York Times, Associate Deputy Secretary Jim Cason was behind the so-called "massacre." Emails were sent to affected employees between 7pm and 8pm on Thursday, June 15, the paper said, informing them of their new posts.

Among those affected were Mike Black, the acting Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, and Weldon “Bruce” Loudermilk, the director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. They learned of their reassignments after spending a week defending the new administration during the mid-year session of the National Congress of American Indians in Connecticut, despite lacking key information about a pending reorganization and other high-profile initiatives.

Cason was there too, having spent two days (June 13 and June 14) at the conference hearing concerns about the Trump team's direction when it comes to tribal matters. But he gave no hint of his forthcoming action when he left the Mohegan Reservation on Wednesday afternoon and returned to Washington, D.C.

Chief Lynn Malerba of the Mohegan Tribe addresses Jim Cason, the Associate Deputy Secretary at the Department of the Interior, during the mid-year session of the National Congress of American Indians on June 14, 2017, his last day at the conference. Seated next to Cason are Chairwoman Cheryl Andrews-Maltais of the Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe and Brian Gunn, a citizen of the Colville Tribes. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Despite the reassignment, Black has remained in the "acting" position at the BIA. President Donald Trump has yet to nominate someone for the Assistant Secretary job, something his two predecessors had already accomplished by this time in their first terms in office.

So far, the only two Interior officials who have been confirmed by the Senate are Secretary Ryan Zinke, who started work on March 1, and Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt, who was just approved on Monday.

Cason, in contrast, serves in a political post that does not require Senate confirmation. Prior to Bernhardt's arrival, he served as Zinke's "acting" deputy, giving him broad authority over the department.

Black, who is a citizen of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, and Loudermilk, who is a citizen of the Fort Peck Tribes, are career, not political, employees. They are part of the Senior Executive Service program within the federal government and it's common for these executives to be shifted around to different positions.

Debra L. DuMontier, who was serving as the "acting" Special Trustee for American Indians, also was reassigned. She is affiliated with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, according to her biography.

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