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Senior BIA official leaving post

Last updated: 12:22 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.

The deputy commissioner of Bureau of Indian Affairs leaving her post, Assistant Secretary Neal McCaleb announced this morning.

During an address to tribal leaders in Washington, D.C., McCaleb said Sharon Blackwell is retiring. "My heart is a little heavy this morning," he told the National Congress of American Indians.

McCaleb praised Blackwell, who also attended the conference, for her service to the bureau. He called her his "good right hand" and said he intends "to work her hard" before she leaves.

"I want to use her expertise, her experience to come to grips with some really critical problems we have," he said. Blackwell will be looking at security, environment, water rights, mineral and

"You will she Sharon representing me in some of these knotty issues," he said.

David Garcia, a council member from the Tohono O'odham Nation of Arizona, thanked Blackwell for her work on border security issues. The tribe's reservation spans the U.S.-Mexico border.

In a short interview after the announcement, Blackwell said she will leave during the first week of June. When asked about her plans, she simply responded: "Resting."

Blackwell had told McCaleb and others in the bureau of her retirement several days ago in an e-mail. She thanked the staff and employees.

BIA spokesperson Nedra Darling said McCaleb would be looking to find a replacement.

Blackwell, a long-time employee of the BIA, was appointed to her post in June 2000 by then-Assistant Secretary Kevin Gover. She replaced Hilda Manuel.