Interior Secretary Sally Jewell with students at Cove Day School, a Bureau of Indian Education institution in Arizona. Photo: Tami A. Heilemann / U.S. Department of the Interior

Two key leadership positions filled at Bureau of Indian Affairs in DC

The Bureau of Indian Affairs is seeing new leadership in its Washington, D.C., office.

Weldon "Bruce" Loudermilk, a member of the Fort Peck Tribes, has been tapped as director of the BIA. He comes to the central office from Alaska, where he was serving as regional director. Prior to that, he worked in the BIA's office in the Great Plains and for the Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians.

Loudermilk succeeds Mike Black, a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe who held the director's post for more than six years. Black is now headed to the BIA office in Billings, Montana, where he will continue to work on key Indian County initiatives. He's been at the agency since 1987.

"Mike Black deserves our thanks and admiration for his dedicated service as director of the BIA, especially focusing on the important work of restoring tribal homelands, returning leasing decisions to the hands of tribal communities, and facilitating tribal economic opportunities," Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said in a press release. "Mike is the longest serving director in the BIA’s history, and we are grateful for his dedication, enthusiasm and commitment to public service.”

Additionally, the troubled Bureau of Indian Education finally has a new director. Tony Dearman, a member of the Cherokee Nation, is coming to D.C. from the agency's office in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he served as an associate deputy director for Indian schools. Prior to that, he was superintendent at Riverside Indian School in Oklahoma.

Dearman succeeds Charles M. “Monty” Roessel, a member of the Navajo Nation who was removed from the post earlier this year amid scandal. He eventually left the Obama administration and was the subject of two investigations that detailed questionable ethics and behaviors.

The BIE, which was previously known as the Office of Indian Education Programs, has seen 34 directors come and go since 1979, according to Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyoming), the chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. He is sponsoring S.2580, the Reforming American Indian Standards of Education Act (RAISE Act), to reform the agency and elevate the director's position within the Interior Department, a move that could prevent the constant shuffles in leadership.

Both the BIA director and the BIE director are non-political positions. But Secretary Jewell said it was important to fill them before the next presidential administration.

"It’s vitally important to our Nation-to-Nation relationship that BIA and BIE leadership remains strong as we transition between Administrations,” said Jewell. “Our actions today ensure that Indian Country will continue to be well-served at the highest career levels. Bruce and Tony bring talent and experience as managers of Indian Affairs offices and programs and will be advocates for tribes, playing critical roles in carrying out our trust and treaty obligations, and furthering our commitment to tribal self-governance and self-determination.”

Inspector General Reports:
Investigation of Improper Hiring at the Bureau of Indian Education (March 30, 2016)
Investigative Report of Brian Drapeaux (December 2, 2014)

Government Accountability Office Reports:
Key Actions Needed to Ensure Safety and Health at Indian School Facilities (March 10, 2016)
Further Actions on GAO Recommendations Needed to Address Systemic Management Challenges with Indian Education (April 22, 2015)
Bureau of Indian Education Needs to Improve Oversight of School Spending (November 13, 2014)

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