On May 31, Thomas Vilsack, secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture, announced the appointment of two prominent American Indians to positions within the USDA.
Leslie Wheelock will serve as Director of the USDA Office of Tribal Relations, and Patrice Kunesh will serve as Deputy Under Secretary for Rural Development according to a letter by Vilsack. Both appointments began immediately.
“Ms. Wheelock and Ms. Kunesh bring an important perspective to USDA, and will continue Obama Administration efforts t ensure that Native Americans have full access to USDA programs and a place at the table when decisions are made,” Vilsack wrote.
Wheelock, Oneida Tribe of Wisconsin, was previously with the National Congress of American Indians as the organizations director of Economic Policy. While with NCAI she worked on numerous economic policies affecting economic development, energy and natural resources and agriculture the letter states. She served as a manager and strategic planning consultant and intellectual property for the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian. She is an attorney with degrees from Cornell University.
Kunesh, Standing Rock Lakota descent, recently worked on a variety of legal issues concerning American Indian tribes and tribal lands in her role as the deputy solicitor for Indian Affairs at the U.S. Department of the Interior. She served on the faculty of the University of South Dakota School of Law. Kunesh has a history of working with tribes on matters of governance, economic and natural resource development. She is a graduate of Colorado Law and was an editor of the Colorado Law Review.