In a pledge to construct the most diverse administration in American history, the presumptuous President-elect Joe Biden is promising to nominate at least one Native American to his cabinet and to include a slew of indigenous people in senior administration roles.
Biden has already agreed to relaunch the Office of Indian Trade as a Cabinet-level appointment, similar to the Office of the US Trade Representative. That office will supplement the Bureau of Indian Affairs‘ service delivery in tribal communities, for the purpose of negotiating trade treaties directly with the indigenous governments of North America.
Oneida Nation Representative Ray Halbriter, former Seneca Nation President Robert Odawi Porter, Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez, and the investment banker Dawson Her Many Horses are all thought to be in contention for that role.
Historically the Office of Indian Trade has been led by the Superintendent of Indian Trade, though the role is likely to be reincarnated as the United States Ambassador for Indian Trade. Critics say the title change would better recognize the nation-to-nation diplomatic relationships that tribal governments have with the United States.
Some have called on Biden to remove the Bureau of Indian Affairs from the Department of the Interior and to make it a stand alone cabinet department. It’s unclear if Biden would take that step, but doing so would allow him to keep his promise of including indigenous people in the cabinet in a prominent way.
Rep. Sharice Davids is being considered for the position of Secretary of Agriculture, though some in the party worry about defending her Republican-leaning congressional district in the suburbs of Kansas City, especially at a time when the House is so evenly divided.
Elected in 2018, Davids became the first Democrat elected to represent a Kansas congressional district in a decade. Davids is the first openly LGBT Native American elected to the U.S. Congress, the first openly gay person elected to the U.S. Congress from Kansas, and one of the first two Native American women elected to Congress. If nominated, she would be the first openly gay person confirmed to a cabinet position by the Senate.
It’s also widely believed that Victoria Sutton, a biosecurity expert and former Yale Law School professor, is in contention to be named Secretary of Transportation. She is a citizen of the Lumbee Nation and is currently a Dean at Texas Tech University’s School of Law. She is a former official in the George H.W. Bush administration.
Jacquline Johnson-Pata, the former longtime executive director of the National Congress of American Indians and a housing official in the Clinton administration, is being considered for the position of Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Johnson-Pata is an Alaska Native, a geographically remote population that suffers badly from rural housing shortages. She currently runs a public housing authority in Juneau.
Environmentalist Winona LaDuke, the Harvard-educated economist who ran for Vice President as Ralph Nader‘s running mate, is being considered for the position of Director of the National Parks Service. It’s thought that the National Park Service could be doing more to co-articulate the natural history of North America’s geography and the history of local indigenous people whose lands are being recreated upon.
Jolene Rickard, a Professor of Fine Arts and Director of Indigenous Studies at Cornell University, is being considered to lead the Smithsonian Institution, a sub-cabinet level presidential appointment. Her work has encompassed the study of indigenous art as a means of decolonization. She is a citizen of the Tuscarora Nation.