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Kevin Washburn announces departure from Bureau of Indian Affairs post

Filed Under: National | Politics
More on: barack obama, bia, brian cladoosby, carl artman, chickasaw, hnrc, icwa, kevin washburn, land-into-trust, larry echohawk, larry roberts, meetings, ncai, neal mccaleb, new mexico, oklahoma, oneida, republicans, sally jewell, will mayo
     
   

Assistant Secretary Kevin Washburn, right, with National Congress of American Indians President Brian Cladoosby at the organization's annual conference in San Diego, California, on October 19, 2015. Photo by Indianz.Com

Assistant Secretary Kevin Washburn will leave the Bureau of Indian Affairs in January after more than three years of service in the Obama administration.

Washburn, a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation, joined the BIA in September 2012. He quickly won praise for his defense of the Indian Child Welfare Act, his push to approve more land-into-trust applications and his handling of controversial issues like the federal recognition process in the face of pressure from Republican lawmakers and non-Indian groups.

“Kevin is a tireless change agent for Indian Country and true partner in our efforts to chart a brighter future for tribal communities through self-determination and self-governance,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said in a press release. “He is a thoughtful leader who provided a steady hand to modernize Indian Affairs to better serve tribes, which will be felt by generations to come in tribal communities across the country. It has been an honor to call him a colleague and friend, and I thank him for his selfless service.”

Washburn's exit is not unexpected. In September, he told Indian Country Today that he was planning to return to the University of New Mexico School of Law, where he previously served as dean, before the end of the Obama era.


Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Assistant Secretary Kevin Washburn visited the Shinnecock Nation of New York on October 1, 2015. Photo from Shinnecock Nation / Facebook

A month later, Washburn confirmed that he was going to leave although he declined to give an end date even when asked directly by one tribal leader, who expressed concerns about the eventual departure.

"I'm probably not going to stay till the very bitter end of the administration," Washburn said at the National Congress of American Indians annual convention, which was held in San Diego, California.

Washburn's appearance at the convention earned him the usual accolades. Tribal leaders called him a strong advocate for self-determination and sovereignty.

"Thank you so much for all that you've done in the last three and a half years," Will Mayo, a former president of the Tanana Chiefs Conference in Alaska told Washburn. "You do represent us, as a trust obligation."


Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn, left, with former Interior SecretaryKen Salazar in October 2012. Photo by Indianz.Com

As one example, NCAI President Brian Cladoosby cited a series of hearings before the House Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs earlier this year in which Republican lawmakers questioned the legality of the land-into-trust process and openly doubted the legitimacy of dozens of federally recognized tribes. Washburn forcefully challenged their assertions and defended his agency's work from the attacks.

"He really got drug through the mud and he got hammered pretty good and he stood up to that," Cladoosby said of Washburn.

"He let them know that he was an advocate for tribes and anything that they did against tribes, he was going to stand up for," Cladoosby said.

"He stood up for us," Cladoosby added.

President Barack Obama nominated Washburn as Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs in August 2012 and he was easily confirmed by the Senate a month later. He succeeded Larry Echo Hawk, a member of the Pawnee Nation who held the post for three years.

Washburn is the second Chickasaw citizen to serve as Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs. The first was Neal McCaleb, who held the post during the Bush administration.

Including Washburn, four of the last six assistant secretaries have been members of a tribe based in Oklahoma. A fifth had a parent who was a member of an Oklahoma tribe.

Following Washburn's departure, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Larry Roberts will lead the BIA "for the remainder of the Obama Administration," the press release from DOI stated. The wording indicates Obama, whose second term ends on January 20, 2017, will not nominate another assistant secretary.

Roberts is a member of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin. Incidentally, the only recent assistant assistant secretary who was not tied to an Oklahoma tribe -- Carl Artman -- is also an Oneida citizen.

Related Stories:
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Top GOP lawmaker takes aim at BIA's Washburn ahead of hearing (10/28)
Groups challenging Indian Child Welfare Act lose round in court (10/22)
Bill strips Bureau of Indian Affairs of federal recognition powers (10/22)
Tribes urge Obama administration to take a stand on taxation (10/21)
Yakama Nation reasserts authority after decades under PL280 (10/20)
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White House blasts Native American Energy Act ahead of vote (10/08)
BIA treads new Carcieri ground in ruling for Massachusetts tribe (09/23)
Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe celebrates land-into-trust decision (09/18)
Assistant Secretary Washburn plans to return to New Mexico (09/18)
BIA declares Hope for Life Day to raise awareness about suicide (09/10)
DOI finalizes new rule for appeals in federal recognition cases (08/13)
BIA adopts new policy regarding federal recognition process (06/30)
Lobbyists met at White House to discuss federal recognition (6/30)
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