Quinault Nation calls for tribal inclusion in Donald Trump's transition team

Quinault Nation President Fawn Sharp, left, with Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, center, and Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency Gina McCarthy at the White House Tribal Nations Conference in Washington, D.C, on September 26, 2016. Photo by U.S. Department of the Interior

With uncertainty falling over Indian Country, the leader of the Quinault Nation is calling on Republican president-elect Donald Trump to include tribes in his transition effort.

President Fawn Sharp acknowledged that Trump's victory on Election Day came as a "surprise." But she said tribes need to be reassured that the next occupant of the White House understands and respects the government-to-government relationship, which he hasn't discussed at all since launching his successful campaign.

“Many of our concerns are based on what we have seen and heard of this man who will step into the Oval Office on January 20,” Sharp said on Wednesday. “We have made progress under the Obama administration, but there is still progress to make before our people receive equitable opportunity with other Americans."

"We hope the Donald Trump we will see in the White House will be a tempered version of the man we saw on the campaign trail, that he will be true to his word to be ‘presidential’ as the leader of the United States and that he meant what he said in his acceptance speech," said Sharp, whose tribe is based in Washington state.

In his early morning speech from New York City, Trump offered a conciliatory message that was vastly different from the brash one he displayed throughout the race. In vowing to unite a deeply divided nation, he promised to make Americans "proud" of his efforts as the 45th president.

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"We’re going to get to work immediately for the American people and we’re going to be doing a job that hopefully you will be so proud of your president," Trump said with his family, running mate and supporters at his side. "You’ll be so proud."

But Indian Country has largely been left out of the picture so far. It wasn't until last week that Trump announced his Native American Coalition but he failed to offer any goals, promises or ideas regarding the first Americans.

"We will gladly accept his offer to provide guidance and help in working with Native American Nations,” Sharp said. “We would first suggest that he include tribal leaders on his transition team, plan to include them on his staff and in his cabinet and plan to listen to what they have to say about tribal rights, treaties, needs and sovereignty."

Trump's transition is based in Washington, D.C, and is headed up by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), who doesn't have much of a record on Indian issues. In the one area where his administration has played a role, with regard to the legal status of tribes in the state, it's been negative.

That doesn't bode well for tribes because the transition is crucial in setting the agenda for the new administration. And it's where the individuals who will head up the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Indian Health Service, the Administration for Native Americans, the National Indian Gaming Commission and the Department of the Interior get their foot in the door.

Historically, an incoming president starts announcing Cabinet-level positions in December, with the goal of getting the confirmation process rolling as soon as Congress returns to work the following month. In ideal situations, these top officials would be confirmed within days of Trump's inauguration on January 20, 2017.

The Secretary of the Interior, who oversees the BIA and often plays a huge role in setting the Indian Country agenda, is typically among the first few that are announced. President Barack Obama made his pick -- Ken Salazar, who incidentally was heading up Clinton's now-dismantled transition -- on December 19, 2008. Then-president George W. Bush nominated Gale Norton on December 29, 2000, which was later than expected because his presidency was in limbo until the U.S. Supreme Court stepped in and ended a ballot counting dispute earlier in the month.

The Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, which oversees the BIA, is typically announced after the Interior Secretary confirmation process has concluded. In Obama's case, Larry EchoHawk was officially nominated in April 2009 although tribes got early word in January of that year, in part because Salazar attended a tribal transition meeting held right before the inauguration and dropped some hints.

The National Congress of American Indians is holding a similar meeting on January 19.

"President-elect Trump must open his heart to the tribes," Sharp said. "We are the people who have lived on this continent for thousands of years and who live by a heritage that has much to offer. We have many needs, but we make major contributions to this country."

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