"We keep hearing positive signs on one hand and negative on the other," President Jefferson Keel of the National Congress of American Indians said of the stalled nominations. "We just don't know," Keel said at the organization's winter session in Washington, D.C., last Tuesday. "That is inexcusable." The Trump administration has defended both nominees as well-suited for the jobs. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, who would be Sweeney's boss, went to bat for her at NCAI’s meeting, noting that she would be the first Alaska Native to serve in the BIA post. "I spoke to the president and we have the full support of the White House," Zinke said of Sweeney's nomination. "To say that you can't be a Native Alaskan to represent Native Alaskans is unconscionable," he said last Tuesday. "It's like saying the only people that can't represent the [tribal] nations are the nations. That's exactly opposite." "I have confidence in Tara and we're doing everything we can to get her in there and to get her through," added Zinke, the leader of the Department of the Interior.
Sweeney is from Alaska, where she is well known for her work on the Alaska Federation of Natives. Mere mention of her name by Zinke drew applause from Alaskans who were at the NCAI meeting last week.
Weaver is from Oklahoma and has reached out to tribes in the Great Plains Area to hear their concerns about the substandard quality of care in their region. His own tribe is also standing behind him."In addition to deep and genuine relationships Robert has developed with Indian tribes over the years, I believe his perspective as a non-physician business executive will go a long way in guiding the IHS through its current difficulties," Chairman John Berrey said in a February 5 letter to the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. The BIA has gone without a Senate-confirmed Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs since January 2016. The IHS has gone without one even longer -- an "acting" director has led the agency since February 2015. The ANA has been without a Senate-confirmed commissioner since October 2016.
Elsewhere in the Trump administration, the only tribal citizen in a Senate-confirmed position is R. Trent Shores, who hails from the Choctaw Nation. He serves as the U.S. Attorney for Northern Oklahoma. There are tribal citizens in other leadership jobs within the president's administration. The list includes John Tahsuda, citizen of the Kiowa Tribe whose title is Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs; Billy Kirkland, a citizen of the Navajo Nation who serves as the Deputy Director of Intergovernmental Affairs at the White House; and Ben Keel, a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation who was recently moved out of the White House to serve as director of the Office of Tribal Relations at the Department of Agriculture. Biographical information about Jean Carol Hovland, provided by the White House, follows:
Ms. Hovland, an enrolled member of the Flandreau Santee Sioux, currently serves as the Tribal Affairs Advisor to Senator John Thune (R-SD). She began her career with Senator Thune in 2005 as the Native American Outreach Coordinator, meeting regularly with Tribal leaders, Tribal program personnel, and Tribal community members in the Great Plains Region. Ms. Hovland played a key role in developing the Tribal Law and Order Act, the Tribal Veterans Health Care Enhancement Act, and the Restoring Accountability in the Indian Health Service Act of 2017. Prior to her employment with Senator Thune, Ms. Hovland was CEO of Wanji Native Nations Consultants which offered training services for Tribal programs and Tribal governments pertaining to homeland security, emergency management, stress management, and time management. She enjoys spending time with family and friends, fishing, traveling, and attending her son’s Special Olympics activities.