TOPEKA, Kan. - On the job for less than a year, the director of the new state Native American Affairs Office sees changes that benefit American Indians throughout Kansas.
Brad Hamilton, Apache/Yuma, was appointed by Gov. Bill Graves last October. He is no stranger to Native American issues or to Graves. The two became friends in junior high and have remained close over the years.
With a degree in education from Kansas Wesleyan University and an emphasis on history and political science, Hamilton is moving forward in his mission to give Native Americans in Kansas better service from the state.
His position is unique. Not only are there reservation areas but large populations of urban Indians living within the borders of the state. Hamilton works with both tribal and urban leaders to expand services to those urban populations.
"One of the things that I think is kind of exciting is the Kansas American Indian Arts Council," Hamilton said. "We have received an endowment from the National Endowment for the Arts to develop a survey and set our goals for the council."
Kansas has seen an increase in Native American populations in the state over the past few years. The 1990 census put Native American populations within the state at 30,000, but Hamilton said, "I think we are going to see, with this census, a much larger population."
He worked as the governor's liaison the past few years and said it became apparent to Graves there were many issues regarding Native Americans within the state. Thus the Native American Affairs Office was created to both address those issues and provide a much greater awareness of them to the general public.
Hamilton sees education about Native American issues and governmental relationships between tribal, state and federal government as paramount to successfully dealing with them.
He serves as chairman of the Indigenous Peoples Subcommittee of the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council. It recently drafted a Guide on Consultation and Collaboration with Indian Tribal Governments and the Public Participation of Indigenous Groups and Tribal Citizens. The draft addresses and explains many misconceptions held by non-Indian populations. Hamilton says this is the first step toward educating government employees as well as the general public on Native Americans and their sovereignty.
The Native American Affairs Office works closely with other state agencies to provide better services to Native Americans in Kansas.
"One thing that has spun out of this recently is that there has not been an ability to bill out Medicare at the local level because there is not an IHS hospital here," Hamilton said. "They are going to be making a presentation to the head of the Veterans Administration for this area about designating the VA hospitals throughout the state as Indian Health hospitals, so that billing can take place. It would also increase health services. There are a lot of foster care issues also."
Hamilton has his plate full as he works to make tribal, state and federal resources available to Native Americans throughout the state. But he said he feels up to the challenge. He is a member of many Native American organizations throughout the country and brings back knowledge he gains and puts it to use for Native Americans in Kansas.
His grueling schedule keeps him busy, but he said he is beginning to see success as the fledgling Native American Affairs Office tries its wings. Hamilton credits the Kansas government and tribal leaders for the progress taking place in the state.
"There isn't another situation like this in the country where you have this government-to-government interaction going on, where people are sitting down and saying, 'Let's work this out together.'"