Opinion | Politics

Kevin Washburn: Advice for the next leader of the Bureau of Indian Affairs

Former assistant Secretary Kevin Washburn. Photo by Indianz.Com

Who will be the next Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, the official in charge of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Bureau of Indian Education? Is anyone even in the running? Kevin Washburn, a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation who held the position from 2012 through 2016, offers some advice:
Congratulations on earning one of the hardest jobs in Washington! You will need a lot of information to be successful. One of the great things about the position is that many people will give you unsolicited guidance, wisdom and advice. Let me be the first.

First, it is a powerful job. Much of the power has existed for a very long time. Felix Cohen, John Collier, and other New Deal officials deserve a lot of credit for their work. They created a lot of power to do good in Indian country and you will now bear that power. While Congress has “plenary power” in Indian affairs, Congress has delegated many of the most significant powers to the Secretary of the Interior, who has in turn delegated those powers to the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs. For example, the Assistant Secretary can take lands into trust, thus restoring tribal jurisdiction over the lands and removing lands from county tax rolls. The Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs can declare new Indian reservations, or expand existing reservations. The Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs can even extend federal recognition to an unrecognized tribe.

But the job is not nearly as powerful as you need it to be. The Trump Administration, like every administration before it, has a trust responsibility to Indian tribes. This trust responsibility is, theoretically, carried by the entire federal government, but it practically rests on your shoulders.

Read More on the Story:
Kevin Washburn: Advice to the Next Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs (Indian Country Today 3/7)

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