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Ann Marie Bledsoe Downes. Photo courtesy Ho-Chunk, Inc.
Native women land key leadership and policy roles in Biden administration
Friday, February 5, 2021
Indianz.Com

A citizen of the Winnebago Tribe is taking on a key leadership position in President Joe Biden’s administration.

Ann Marie Bledsoe Downes will serve as Deputy Solicitor for Indian Affairs at the U.S. Department of the Interior. In that role, she will lead the Indian Country legal team for the federal agency with the most trust and treaty responsibilities to tribes and their citizens.

In recognition of the department’s importance, Biden has nominated Rep. Deb Haaland (D-New Mexico) to serve as Secretary of the Interior. If confirmed, the Pueblo of Laguna citizen will be the first Native person to lead Interior and the first Native person in a modern-day presidential cabinet.

“The significance of her appointment to me personally and to all of Indian Country cannot be overstated,” Bledsoe Downes said of Haaland.

“I’m honored to be a part of that,” Bledsoe Downes said of joining a department that includes the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Bureau of Indian Education and the Bureau of Trust Funds Administration, along with numerous programs that impact tribes, their homelands and their ancestral territories.

Bledsoe Downes most recently served as executive vice president of community impact and engagement for Ho-Chunk, Inc., the economic development corporation for the Winnebago Tribe. She has worked there for four years.

“We appreciate your dedication to serving Native communities, including Winnebago,” the corporation said in a social media post announcing her departure. “We’ll miss working with you, but excited for the future!”

Before joining her tribe’s corporation, Bledsoe Downes served as the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Economic Development at Interior during the Barack Obama administration. The position is located within the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs.

Besides her work at Ho-Chunk, Inc., Bledsoe Downes has been Professor of Practice and director of the Indian gaming and tribal self-governance programs at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University. She grew up in Winnebago and graduated from Wayne State College before becoming president of Little Priest Tribal College on the reservation in northeast Nebraska.

Bledsoe Downes is among a growing number of Native women who have taken leadership and policy positions in the Biden administration. The cohort includes:

Elizabeth Carr, a citizen of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians who is the Senior Advisor to the Director of the Indian Health Service.

JoAnn Chase, a citizen of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation who serves as the Director of the American Indian Environmental Office at the Environmental Protection Agency.

Danna Jackson, a citizen of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes who serves as Counselor to the Director for the Bureau of Land Management at the Department of the Interior.

Wahleah Johns, a citizen of the Navajo Nation who is serving as Director of the Office of Indian Energy at the Department of Energy.

Natalie Landreth, a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation who serves as the Deputy Solicitor for Land Resources at the Department of the Interior.

Heather Dawn Thompson, a citizen of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe who is serving as the Director of the Office of Tribal Relations at the Department of Agriculture.

• Elizabeth (Libby) Rodke Washburn, a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation who is serving as a Special Assistant to President Biden as part of the Domestic Policy Council at the White House.

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