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Teehee Named Obama’s Senior Advisor on Indian Affairs

Indian Country Today , News Report , Gale Courey Toensing Posted: Jun 18, 2009

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama has fulfilled his promise to appoint a high-level White House advisor on Indian affairs.

On June 15, Obama announced his selection of Kimberly Teehee for the newly created position of senior policy advisor for Native American Affairs. As a member of the Domestic Policy Council, Teehee will advise the president on issues affecting Indian country.

Obama announced Teehee’s appointment in videotaped remarks during the mid-year conference of the National Congress of American Indians, which took place June 14 – 17 at the Seneca Niagara Casino in Niagara Falls, N.Y.

“She is rightly recognized as an outstanding advocate for Indian country, and she will provide a direct interface at the highest level of my administration, assuring a voice for Native Americans during policy making decisions,” said Obama.

Teehee is expected to begin on July 1.

“I was elated and excited when I received the news of my appointment last week,” she said. “I am truly humbled and honored by this appointment. I look forward to joining the White House Domestic Policy Council and advising President Obama on issues impacting Indian country.”

Along with the announcement of Teehee’s appointment, Obama also said the White House would hold a Tribal Nations Conference in the fall – the fulfillment of another promise he made on the campaign trail.

“President Obama is committed to strengthening and building on the nation-to-nation relationship between the United States and tribal nations,” Teehee said. The fall conference will give “tribal leaders an opportunity to assist the president in developing an agenda for Indian country.”

A member of the Cherokee Nation, she has a sturdy resume of experience as an advocate for Indian country during her student years and in her work in Washington.

She received a Bachelor of Arts in political science from Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Okla., and a Juris Doctor from the University of Iowa – College of Law. While in law school, Teehee was honored with the Bureau of National Affairs Award and served in leadership positions in the National Native American Law Student Association and the Iowa Native American Law Student Association.

Teehee worked for the Democratic National Committee as deputy director of Native American Outreach for the committee’s first Indian desk. She also has held various positions with the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, including law clerk in the Division of Law and Justice. She served as director of Native American outreach for the Presidential Inaugural Committee for President Clinton’s second inauguration.

Since January 1998, Teehee has been senior adviser to Congressman Dale Kildee, D-Mich., co-chair of the House of Representatives’ Native American Caucus.

“President Obama has made an excellent choice in Kim Teehee. I have worked with Kim for over a decade, and I have always found her to be a thoughtful, dedicated and passionate advocate for our Native American population,” Kildee said. “The president has made it clear that he is committed to strengthening the relationship between the United States and tribal nations and I am confident that Kim will be instrumental in achieving that goal. I congratulate Kim on this exciting opportunity and I commend the president on his choice.”

National Indian Gaming Association Chairman Ernie Stevens Jr. also had high praise for her.

“Kimberly is the right choice. She has her feet fully planted in Indian country and knows the critical domestic issues our Indian people face today. I am confident she will represent the best interests of all of Indian country in the White House.”

As Kildee’s senior advisor, Teehee advised more than 100 members of the bi-partisan Native American Caucus. She wrote speeches, testimony and legislation relating to Native American issues and works closely with House leadership, committee and Senate staff. She also coordinated with tribal leaders and organizations from across the country.

Teehee was born in Chicago, but grew up in Claremore, Okla., where her parents moved as part of a federal relocation assistance program for American Indians. Teehee and her family speak fluent Cherokee.

“My parents are very proud of me,” she said. “Most of my family lives in northeastern Oklahoma and most are public servants working for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Indian Health Service, or tribal government, as school teachers or in law enforcement. Like many Native families, they know what it feels like to struggle, especially in these challenging times. They are thrilled that President Obama is committed to improving the lives of Native Americans.”

Teehee’s appointment does not require Senate approval.

She joins a number of American Indians that Obama has chosen for high profile positions in his administration.

Jodi Gillette, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, is the deputy associate director for White House intergovernmental affairs office; Larry EchoHawk, Pawnee of Oklahoma, was recently confirmed as head of the BIA; and Yvette Roubideaux, a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe of South Dakota, is director of IHS. Additionally, Mary Smith, Cherokee, is assistant attorney general for the Department of Justice; and Hilary Tompkins, a member of the Navajo Nation, has been nominated as solicitor of the Department of the Interior but has not yet been confirmed.

Teehee’s appointment comes at a time when the Obama administration is launching a new initiative to improve law enforcement efforts in Indian country.

Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli announced the plan in his address to the more than 500 attendees at the NCAI conference and in a press release on the Justice Department Web site.

Later this year, Attorney General Eric Holder will convene a Tribal Nations Listening Conference to confer with tribal leaders on how to address the chronic problems of public safety in Indian country and other important issues affecting tribal communities, Perrelli said.

A series of regional summits to seek tribal representatives’ input in setting the agenda will be held before the conference.

Among the issues to be discussed are law enforcement policy and personnel; communications and consultation; grants and technical assistance; detention facilities; federal prosecution in Indian country; tribal court development; domestic violence; drug courts and substance abuse; federal litigation involving tribes; and civil rights. No locations or dates have been announced.

Photo courtesy of Rep. Dale Kildee's office
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