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Kevin Washburn addresses NCAI for first time as leader of BIA

Kevin Washburn speaks at the opening day of the National Congress of American Indians 69th annual conference in Sacramento, California, October 22, 2012. Photo © Indianz.Com

Kevin Washburn addressed the National Congress of American Indians for the first time as the new leader of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Washburn, a member of the Chickasaw Nation, has been on the job for less than two weeks. But he vowed to keep the "momentum" of the Obama administration going.

"I don't come in with a huge agenda," Washburn told tribal leaders. "My main agenda is to keep momentum on the strong progress we've had."

One area Washburn cited was land-into-trust. After a de facto moratorium during the Bush era, the Obama administration has approved nearly 1,000 applications totaling about 180,000 acres since 2009.

In the two years prior, the BIA only approved 17 applications. "That's great progress," Washburn observed.

On his second day in office, in fact, Washburn approved a land-into-trust application for the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation of North Dakota. The application had been pending for a decade.

As Washburn settles into the job, he said he will be guided by one philosophy -- self-determination. "I know we do better when we are working for ourselves," he told tribal leaders.

The new Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs promised to consult tribes before he develops his own agenda. He talked about potential reforms to the federal recognition process but otherwise didn't go into many specifics during his NCAI speech.

"I can't succeed without your support," Washburn concluded.

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NCAI kicks off 69th annual conference in Sacramento, California (10/22)

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