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Biden administration announces new additions to Indian Affairs team
Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Two tribal citizens are joining the Indian Affairs team at the Department of the Interior.

Joaquin Gallegos, a citizen of the Jicarilla Apache Nation, will be serving as a Special Assistant to the Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs, the department said in a news release on Wednesday. And Wizipan Little Elk, citizen of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, is the new Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs.

“The Interior Department is hard at work turning President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda into reality. said Larry Roberts, a citizen of the Oneida Nation who serves as Chief of Staff to Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland.

“These new team members will help serve our mission to honor the federal government’s trust responsibilities to Indian Country, strengthen the Nation-to-Nation relationship, and conserve our public lands and waters for current and future generations,” said Roberts.

Gallegos, who also hails from the Pueblo of Santa Ana, most recently served as a law clerk on the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. He also worked for the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe and the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, according to Interior’s release.

Little Elk worked at the department during the Barack Obama administration. He most recently served as the chief executive officer for REDCO, the economic development enterprise of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe.

In addition to Gallegos and Little Elk, Mike Martinez is joining Interior as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks. He most recently served as a policy analyst for the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, which supports the treaty rights of tribes in western Washington.

Deb Haaland
Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland. Photo: Tami Heilemann / U.S. Department of the Interior

The Indian Affairs team at Interior is overseen by Assistant Secretary Bryan Newland, a citizen of the Bay Mills Indian Community. He was confirmed to his post by the U.S. Senate on August 7.

The department itself is led by Secretary Halaand, who was confirmed to her post on March 15. She is the first Native person in a presidential cabinet.

“At Interior, we believe that honoring our relationship with tribes and upholding the trust responsibility is paramount to fulfilling this department’s mission,” Halaand, who is a citizen of the Pueblo of Laguna, said in an address to the National Congress of American Indians on Tuesday.

“For too long, Indian issues were relegated only to the Indian Affairs,” said Haaland, who is the first Native person to lead the federal agency with the most trust and treaty responsibilities in Indian Country. “We’re going to make sure that tribal communities thrive that tribal sovereignty is respected and strengthened.”

The Department of the Interior includes the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Bureau of Indian Education and the recently-created Bureau of Trust Funds Administration, which is taking over most of the functions of the former Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians.

The positions announced on Wednesday do not require Senate confirmation.

Biographical information from Interior follows:

Joaquin Gallegos, Special Assistant, Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs
Joaquin R. Gallegos (Jicarilla Apache Nation/Pueblo of Santa Ana) recently served as a law clerk to Judge Allison H. Eid on the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Previously, Joaquin served as a legislative staff attorney to the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe. He has also served as a legal fellow to former Senator Tom Udall on the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs and as a policy fellow to former Senator Byron Dorgan at the Aspen Institute. Joaquin graduated from the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and the University of Colorado Denver.

Wizipan Little Elk, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs
Wizipan Little Elk is a citizen of the Sicangu Oyate (Rosebud Sioux Tribe). Most recently, he served as the CEO of the REDCO ecosystem of organizations. Wizipan’s previous experience includes serving within the Sicangu Oyate government and at the Interior Department as deputy chief of staff to the Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Yale University and his law degree from the University of Arizona. Wizipan is a hunter and writer. He lives on the homelands of the Sicangu and is married to the love of his life and together raise four children.

Mike Martinez, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Fish and Wildlife and Parks
Michael Martinez most recently served as a policy analyst for the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, where he focused on water resources and fisheries in western Washington. He previously served for seven years as a natural resources law and policy advisor at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Michael also served for over a decade in various roles at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, and as a judicial law clerk at the Washington Supreme Court. Michael holds a bachelor’s degree in natural resources recreation planning and management, master’s degrees in environmental studies and environmental law, and a Juris Doctor.