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The Rise of Tribes and the Fall of Federal Indian Law
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ICT interview with Kevin Gover on the perils of running the BIA

Filed Under: National | Politics
More on: kevin gover, kevin washburn, nmai
     

"ICT: How does being head of the NMAI compare to having been the leader of the BIA? Are there any similarities?

Kevin Gover: Almost none. Being the Assistant Secretary is all about having a great deal of responsibility, but very limited authority to deploy resources as you see fit. There’s no point in complaining about it, or suggesting that it should change, because I don’t know that it can. That’s just the way it is. So you don’t have nearly enough authority to achieve the kinds of outcomes we’d all like to see.

ICT: Do you end up feeling really stymied in a position like that?

Kevin Gover: What you have to do is take your opportunities when they arise. The Bureau may have very little capacity to create a wave, but we should be able to ride them when we see them. Two examples: In the middle of the Clinton administration, there was a lot of focus on safe streets and police officers, and the Bureau was able to get involved in that initiative, which increased law enforcement on reservations. It was not enough, but it was better than it had been. And at the end of the Clinton administration, there was some money after the budget was balanced, and we were able to get close to a billion dollars in more funding for the Indian affairs budget across the agencies. We got a lot of money for school construction under that. The Assistant Secretary and his staff have to really be watchful and aware of the overall political discourse in order to latch on to the things that are going to actually see some progress.

The job is also largely about making decisions. Most of my days back then were taken up with meeting different tribal delegations about particular issues, and then making decisions to try to move a particular issue forward. And the tribes aren’t going to win every one of those arguments. And the Assistant Secretary can’t just afford to think about one case; he has to think about the next case, and the case after that, and the long-term implications of the decision at hand."

Get the Story:
From One Who’s Been There: Kevin Gover’s Advice for Kevin Washburn (Indian Country Today 11/26)


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