Native women take top posts in Obama administration
THURSDAY, APRIL 9, 2009
Filed Under: Politics
President Barack Obama is on track to appointing a record number of Native Americans in his administration, with a number of top jobs going to Native women.
Since taking office on January 20, Obama has appointed or nominated four Native women to posts across the government, with another expected in the coming weeks. That's more than any of his predecessors.
"With passion and courage, women have taught us that when we band together to advocate for our highest ideals, we can advance our common well-being and strengthen the fabric of our nation," Obama said in a proclamation to declare March as Women's History Month.
One of Obama's hires is already on the job. Jodi Archambault Gillette, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, serves as deputy associate director of the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs at the White House, and is the first Native person to hold the job.
"The OGA is the front door at the White House," Gillette told the United South and Eastern Tribes in February. "My primary role is to listen and to hear what you say."
The White House could soon be gaining another Native woman too. A source close to the administration expects Heather Kendall-Miller, an Athabascan attorney who works for the Native American Rights Fund, to be named as the first-ever Indian policy adviser.
The pair would be joined by three other Native women whose positions await Senate confirmation. They are: Hilary Tompkins, a member of the Navajo Nation, for as Solicitor of the Interior Department; Yvette Roubideaux, a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, for director of the Indian Health Service; and Mary L. Smith, a member of the Cherokee Nation, whose nomination to a top post at the Department of Justice was announced yesterday by Obama.
All three nominations are historic in their own way. Tompkins, a prominent attorney from New Mexico, would be the first woman to serve as the top legal official for Interior, a post that has not traditionally gone to someone with such a strong Indian law background.
"I'm committed to having a face of the Department of the Interior, from top to bottom, that is reflective of the face of America," Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told the Senate Indian Affairs Committee in February.
Roubideaux, a well-respected Indian health researcher, would be the first woman to run the IHS. Tribal leaders believe her first-hand experience with the agency will help her transform health care for American Indians and Alaska Natives.
"As a teenager, I realized that I had never seen an American Indian physician and felt that by becoming a physician I could do something to help improve healthcare for American Indian communities," Roubideaux said in a biography for a government exhibition on women physicians
Smith, who served on Obama's transition team along with Roubideaux, would be the first Native person to serve as attorney general for the tax division at DOJ. Again, the position has never gone to someone with a background in Indian issues.
"At this crucial moment in our nation's history, the American people will be well-served by the dedication and expertise of these fine public servants," Obama said yesterday as he announced Smith and three other nominees.
The hires represent a big shift from the prior administration, when former president George W. Bush did not have any Native Americans working at the White House for eight years. His Native nominees were also restricted to posts that deal with Indian issues.
Obama will be filling the same jobs with Native Americans though he has yet to announce his picks for people to lead the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians and the National Indian Gaming Commission. All three posts require Senate confirmation.
Other open posts include the director of the Administration for Native Americans a the Department of Health and Human Services. The job, which requires Senate confirmation, was held by a Native women during the Bush years.
Also open is the director of the Office of Indian Education at the Department of Education. The post, which does not require Senate confirmation, was held by a Native woman during the Bush administration.