WASHINGTON – In a major Indian shake-up in the D.C. political world, tribal leaders have learned that Kimberly Teehee is set to leave her position at the White House as the first-ever Senior Policy Advisor for Native American Affairs, while Jodi Gillette will be returning to the White House after a stint at the Interior Department.
Teehee is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, while Gillette is a citizen of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Both women were part of a wave of high-profile Native American hires at the beginning of the Obama administration.
Teehee was previously a congressional staffer for several years for Dale Kildee, D-Mich., and had a strong Native affairs portfolio before joining the administration. Before joining the Obama campaign in 2008 to help get out the Native vote, Gillette was the director of the Native American Training Institute, a tribally operated non-profit organization. She has also long been a respected traditional Lakota dancer.
Gillette has served at the Department of the Interior as the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs since January 2011. Before that, she was an associate director of intergovernmental affairs at the White House.
Gillette is not expected to return to her old position at the White House, and it is not yet officially confirmed what her new job will be. Charlie Galbraith, a Navajo Nation citizen, currently holds Gillette’s former position.
Teehee is heading to the Mapetsi policy group, a small legal and lobbying firm, founded by tribal advocate Debbie Ho with the aim of preserving tribal sovereignty.
“Kim Teehee has led a government-wide team that has made dramatic progress on Native American issues. From stronger government-to-government consultation, to the settlement of longstanding disputes, to strengthening economic growth and public safety in Indian country, Kim has helped set the bar very high for all Administrations to come,” Pete Rouse, counselor to President Barack Obama told Indian Country Today Media Network in an e-mail.
There has been unconfirmed speculation that Teehee was at some point interested in becoming Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs at the Department of the Interior. Larry Echo Hawk, a Pawnee Nation citizen, announced earlier in April that he would be leaving that position to take up a leadership position with the Mormon Church.
Del Laverdure, a citizen of the Crow Nation, is to begin serving as acting Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs on April 27.
Many Indian country officials have had positive words to say about both Teehee and Gillette throughout their tenure.
“From her position in the White House Office of Domestic Policy, Kim has given focus and structure to the unparalleled good will the Obama Administration has shown toward Indian country,” Philip Baker-Shenk, an Indian affairs partner with Holland & Knight, told Indian Country Today Media Network. “Her steady wisdom and judgment will be hard to replace, its loss mitigated only by the return to the White House of one of Indian country’s most zealous advocates in the administration, Jodi Gillette.”