Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Keeping an eye on presidential Native developments

With the pick of Salazar as Secretary of Interior, so ends my brief advocating for former Gov. Tony Knowles, or another Native-friendly, or Native person, to fill the role. My reaction was kind of... Oh? Huh. Eh.

Not that Salazar will be bad (I know only what I've read in the last few days), certainly, but he has no real record to speak of with Native issues. Unfortunately for Native people, the Bureau of Indian Affairs is lumped in under the Department of the Interior, meaning the other issues the secretary deals with will almost certainly take precedence over Native issues, and therefore a Native person unlikely to be chosen. Okay, maybe "unlikely" is not the right word... more like, never happened in the history of the department. In this case, it is not so much that Native issues are not important, I think, than the environment is THE issue. At least that's what I hope. A former governor of a state that produces children with oil in their blood was probably pretty unlikely (but it was a nice thought while it lasted!) In any case, though Salazar has become the top guy (outside of Obama) for environmental, resources, etc., he has also become the top guy in regards to Native issues. My best wishes to him!

Oh well. Obama is making good progress on the promises of filling top roles, especially to do with Native issues, with Native people. A Rosebud Sioux, Wizipan Garriot, was named as his First Americans Public Liaison. The position itself is brand new, as promised to Native people during the campaign by the big O, so my hopes are high that he will keep to the others.

Most of the positions announced so far are the positions "just" in the transition team, so it will only be in the next few months that we'll really be hearing about exactly what the Native positions will be and who will fill them. Before the liaison announcement, they said that the precentage of Native people in the transition team was 1.2 percent. While this sounds shockingly low to a Native from Alaska, where our Native population hovers between 15 and 20% of the overall state population, depending on the report, it is actually keeping with general stats in the U.S. for what the population of Natives is - somewhere between 1.1 and 1.5 percent.

Now some of what we are looking at will be the other new Native-oriented positions, including Native White House advisor. I'd also like to see a Native person filling the top positions in the Bureau of Indian Affairs (most of which has been done in recent decades.) I'm not sure if it's the President that fills those, or the Secretary, but fingers are crossed.

And if he's having trouble, there's a Tlingit woman in Anchorage ready to head to D.C. at a moments notice!

Although not totally related to all of this, here's an interesting opinion piece on "the how and why of Obama's Native support" from Indian Country Today.

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