It has been an honor to serve as the seventh commissioner in the history of the Administration for Native Americans (ANA) and as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Native American Affairs at the Administration for Children and Families (ACF). Our time together has resulted in meaningful progress for American Indians and Alaska Natives (AI/AN), Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders. I share my deepest appreciation for tribal leaders, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Indigenous leaders, community members, and colleagues at the federal, state, and local levels who have shared their insights and collaborated with us in remarkable ways. It was this collaboration and commitment to improving the health and well-being of Native communities that fostered, supported, and paved the path for targeted advocacy and accomplishments over the past few years.
I was blessed to serve as a member of the first ever Presidential Task Force on Missing and Murdered Native Americans (MMNA), Operation Lady Justice (OLJ) Visit disclaimer page . As a member, I partnered with the Department of Justice and Department of the Interior to build awareness and advance cross-federal actions to help end this crisis. Leading the development of the first of its kind ACF Missing and Murdered Native Americans (MMNA) – A Public Health Framework for Action, and engaging all ACF programs whose work touch the lives of Native Americans, was a highlight of my time at ANA. As I move forward, I am grateful that health and human services supports and tools are now part of more comprehensive national and local responses to MMNA.
Native communities have great strength and continue to thrive amid challenges. Through listening sessions, consultations, webinars, community visits, and collaboration with federal officials, tribal leaders, and urban Indian communities we have accomplished much. As Chair of the ACF Native American Affairs Advisory Council and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary’s Intradepartmental Council on Native American Affairs (ICNAA), there has been significant growth and continued movement in advocating for AI/AN, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander populations. We were able to improve communication, collaboration and partnerships across HHS and ACF to address high-priority issues facing Native communities such as COVID-19, MMNA, and the preservation of Native languages.
Based on input from tribal leaders and Native communities, I established strategic priorities early in my tenure to ensure that ANA made meaningful progress. Examples of our accomplishments include:
- Improved HHS Tribal Coordination: Received HHS Secretary Azar’s support to re-establish ICNAA. ICNAA progress is being reported via the HHS Tribal Affairs Report.
- Increased Engagement of Native American Communities: Ensured true and meaningful tribal consultation, listening sessions, and communications by responding to tribal leader requests to host ACF Annual Tribal Consultations outside of Washington, DC. Established a platform for holding ACF tribal consultation virtually in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and achieved one of the highest tribal leader participation rates. Hosted a virtual dialogue between Native youth participants in ANA-funded projects and members of the OLJ Task Force focused on MMNA. Collaborated with the National Council of Urban Indian Health to ensure the voices of urban Indian program leaders informed national MMNA efforts.
- Changed ACF Collaboration on Native Priorities: Led the ACF Native American Affairs Advisory Council comprised of leaders across the agency, whose goal is to leverage and strengthen impacts for Native communities. Through this Council, I led the development of the ACF MMNA Framework as a resource for tribal communities and federal stakeholders. The Framework is engaging staff across ACF programs, fostering new ACF partnerships, improving cross-agency communications for Native communities, assessing data opportunities for addressing MMNA progress, and is strategically changing the way the agency routinely collaborates and supports Native communities.
- Established Critical Partnerships: Forged a partnership with the ACF Office of Trafficking in Persons (OTIP) that has resulted in increased support for Native communities. This partnership has yielded both a special funding competition to help organizations build capacity in the prevention of human trafficking in Native American communities and new specialized training through the National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Center. Our staff also worked with OTIP to create the first-ever Native focused Human Trafficking Leadership Academy, which educates cohorts of Native leaders as they work to prevent trafficking of indigenous peoples.
- Advanced Economic Development in Native Communities: Advocated for and supported economic development in Native communities through a host of efforts to include, ensuring flexibility of ANA funding to address economic development; promoting ANA resources at targeted national events such as the Reservation Economic Development Summit and American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association Conference; partnering with federal agencies such as the Department of Labor to promote Indian preference in contracting and highlighting how opportunity zones can be leveraged in Native Communities.
- Ensured Support for Healthy Native Communities: Engaged with the National Rural Health Association and served on the HHS Deputy Secretary’s Rural Health Task Force, to elevate food sovereignty as a critical area for ANA funding support. We hosted a national ACF conference and assembled Native grantees receiving support for economic development, Native language preservation, environmental and regulatory enhancement, Native youth, child care, foster care, head start, tribal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and child support enforcement, among others.
- Drove Efforts to More Effectively Address Resource Management: Sought input during tribal consultations and stakeholder engagements, which helped ease administrative burdens on applicants pursuing grants. Created internal ANA staffed “think tanks” to identify ways to leverage existing federal resources and partnerships to avoid duplication of federal efforts and increase efficiency.
- Strengthened Advocacy and Support for Native Communities: Leveraged opportunities to foster government-wide advocacy by: establishing new priorities in ANA funding, testifying at Congressional hearings, partnering with federal officials with responsibilities to Native communities. Through ANA funding, I elevated issues important to Native youth, elders, first responders, and veterans and introduced bonus points for grant applications focused on ending MMNA. I also established the Social and Economic Development Strategies for Growing Organizations (SEDS-GO) Visit disclaimer page funding opportunity, a new ANA program, to address lower-capacity and underserved communities. I testified on efforts to address social and economic development in Native communities and the importance of ending MMNA before the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs and House Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs..
- Introduced Efforts to Build More Enduring National Support: I established the National Remembrance Shawl to Honor Missing and Murdered Native Americans Visit disclaimer page and Americans in all communities became aware of the tragedy of MMNA and acknowledge that we are all responsible for addressing this crisis. I also promoted awareness of the crisis through public service announcements, news interviews, and Op-Eds.
- Advanced Tribal Early Childhood Development: Led development of a blueprint for action in partnership with the ACF Office of Early Childhood, the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, and other federal and Tribal stakeholders, to identify ways to support Tribal early childhood coordination.
- Supported Priorities for Veterans and First Responders: Launched a 6-part webinar series titled Operation Honoring & Supporting Our Modern-Day Protectors to highlight various coping techniques, and cultural approaches to mitigate the daily stressors faced by Tribal Law Enforcement and First Responders.
- Recognized Native Code Talkers of WWI and WWII: Honored Native Code Talkers with the first-ever Native Language Legacy Award for Individual Achievement.
It has been an honor to serve in this Administration and I will continue to advocate on behalf of Native communities nationwide. I’m confident that the progress made will ensure ANA and ACF efforts, on behalf of Native Americans, will continue to grow and thrive. It is my hope that, during my tenure, Native Americans felt that their voices were heard and aware that the achievements mentioned here were accomplished only with their help. The knowledge I gained from tribal and Indigenous leaders significantly impacted me. Thank you all and I look forward to remaining engaged in advocacy efforts that promote a better future for Native peoples.
The Administration for Native Americans (ANA) is a program office within the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families. Visit our website to learn more about ANA.