The U.S. Senate has confirmed Kevin Washburn, a member of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma, to head the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Washburn is the current dean of the University of New Mexico Law School. The Bureau of Indian Affairs is an agency of the federal government within the U.S. Department of the Interior responsible for the administration and management of land held in trust by the United States for Native Americans in the United States, Native American Tribes and Alaska Natives.
Washburn was nominated by President Barack Obama in August 2012. Jefferson Keel, president of the National Congress of American Indians, and lieutenant governor of the Chickasaw Nation, praised Washburn’s nomination. Navajo President Ben Shelly said the tribe looked forward to Washburn’s expertise in advancing issues in Indian Country, such as renewable energy, economic development, infrastructure, public safety, and education.
The Senate approved his nomination as Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs by unanimous consent on September 21, 2012. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar applauded the votes by the Senate, and saw the approval a continued strengthening of the integrity of the nation’s government-to-government relationship with federally-recognized Indian tribes.
Washburn has been University of New Mexico Law School’s dean since June 2009. He previously worked as a federal prosecutor and taught at law schools at the University of Arizona and the University of Minnesota. Washburn was a trial attorney at the U.S. Department of Justice, and the General Counsel of the National Indian Gaming Commission. As a trial attorney at the U.S. Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, Washburn argued Montana v. EPA, in which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld a decision of the Environmental Protection Agency to recognize the Salish & Kootenai Tribes as a state for setting water quality standards under the Clean Water Act.
Washburn received a B.A. in economics from the University of Oklahoma in 1989, and earned his law degree at Yale Law School in 1993. He was the Editor-In-Chief of the Yale Journal on Regulation.
Salazar told the press Washburn will be an outstanding addition to the leadership team to empower Native American and Alaska Native communities. Keel said law enforcement and trust reform will be issues for the Bureau of Indian Affairs in the coming years, and Washburn’s experience as a federal prosecutor will be a benefit. Salazar saw Washburn as a vital asset for President Obama’s initiatives in Indian Country.
Washburn said during his confirmation hearing he would work to ensure the federal government meets its obligations to American Indians and support tribes working toward greater self-governance.