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Humetewa officially resigns

WASHINGTON – Diane J. Humetewa, the first American Indian woman to serve as a U.S. attorney, has confirmed that she will resign from her position, effective Aug. 2.

Humetewa, a member of the Hopi Tribe, has held the job, based in Arizona, since December 2007. After being championed by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., for the role, she was nominated by former President George W. Bush to become the top federal prosecutor in the state.

Instead of asking Humetewa to stay on, President Barack Obama selected Dennis Burke, a non-Indian lawyer in Arizona, to take over. Burke is expected to go through a Senate confirmation process soon. He previously served as chief of staff to Janet Napolitano when she was Arizona’s governor and state attorney general. She now serves as Obama’s Homeland Security Department secretary.

While common for new presidents to appoint allies to key positions, many Native Americans have asked whether Obama could have made an exception in the case of Humetewa.

During her short tenure, she worked to bring attention to tribal justice issues, both in her state and on the national level. In recent months, she helped hold a symposium on the Navajo Nation focused on school violence issues.

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In June, Humetewa was awarded the Women in Federal Law Enforcement’s highest honorary award in partial recognition of her dedication to the training of law enforcement to enhance their response to crimes on tribal lands.

Reaction to the development has been strong. Many Indian bloggers have decried Obama’s decision; acquaintances of Humetewa have said they are disappointed that the political appointee process in Washington did her in; and some comments on IndianCountryToday.com have called her de facto dismissal “an outrage.”

If she is angry at Obama, Humetewa is not showing it. In an official statement announcing her resignation, she thanked the president.

“It has been a great privilege to serve the citizens of Arizona in this office. I am grateful to the entire U.S. attorney staff for their daily commitment in the pursuit of justice for our citizens, and I am also grateful to all our federal, tribal, state and local law enforcement partners whose hard work is indispensable in that pursuit. I also thank the Arizona congressional delegation, the Arizona federal court judges, the United States attorney general, and the president for the opportunity to serve the nation.”

Humetewa has not yet said where she plans to work next.