WASHINGTON – The White House announced Feb. 6 that Jodi Archambault Gillette has been named one of three deputy associate directors of the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs. It is a historic appointment, as no other American Indian has ever held the position.
Gillette’s role will focus on overseeing Indian and tribal affairs in the office, which is dedicated to facilitating the exchange of information between governmental entities. In recent years, the office has largely served as a conduit between the White House and state and local governments.
Gillette is an enrolled member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. She previously served as the North Dakota First American vote director for President Barack Obama’s campaign.
Before joining the Obama campaign, 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.
Recent presidential administrations have appointed key people to work with Indian tribes in the intergovernmental affairs office, including Jennifer Farley under President George W. Bush and Loretta Avent and Lynn Cutler under President Bill Clinton.
Gillette has been heralded as the first tribal member to hold the position.
American Indians Holly Cook and Mary Smith both worked in the Clinton White House, but neither held as high a position as Gillette now does.
Many American Indians are hailing Gillette’s appointment as extraordinary.
Keith Harper, a Native affairs lawyer with Kilpatrick Stockton and former member of Obama’s transition team, said Gillette’s background is “refreshing” and signals the new president does not have a Washington-centric background.
“She is someone that tribal leaders from around the country can feel comfortable with,” Harper said. “Jodi certainly understands the viewpoint of reaching outside of Washington to make good things happen.”
Theresa Sheldon, a member of the Tulalip Tribes and a coordinator with the Native Vote Washington advocacy group, called Gillette’s appointment “historic and game changing.”
“Native voters turned out in record numbers to vote for both President Obama and Senator McCain, so there’s a lot of expectation out here in Indian country, based on those campaign promises that Indian issues will be a priority for the new administration,” Sheldon said. “Gillette’s appointment, this early in the administration is a good sign.”
Gillette received her undergraduate degree from Dartmouth College in 1991 in government/Native American studies. In 2002, she was awarded a Bush Foundation Leadership Fellowship and obtained her Master of Public Administration from the University of Minnesota.
A statement released from the White House indicated that she “is committed to her tribe and people, in maintaining cultural life ways and beliefs of her ancestors.”
Since her appointment, Gillette has not been available for comment. She attended a gathering of the United South and Eastern Tribes in Washington Feb. 9, during which many tribal leaders met her for the first time.
Gillette has advocated in the past that Natives need to better organize, so as to get their interests known and accounted for by the federal government.
Obama concurrently named Nicholas Rathod and Michael Blake as intergovernmental deputy associate directors.
“These individuals bring diverse experiences and a deep passion for public service to my administration,” Obama said. “As we work to serve the American people and make this White House as open and transparent as possible, it’s essential that we hear from citizens in all our communities. I am confident that Jodi, Michael and Nick will be valuable members of our team.”
Indian country officials expect that Obama will soon appoint at least one more American Indian to serve in his administration. He has made the promise to have a senior advisor focused on Indian affairs; his wife, Michelle Obama, recently reiterated the pledge.