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Standing Rock Sioux member gets key White House post

WASHINGTON – The White House announced Feb. 6 that Jodi Archambault Gillette has been named as one of three deputy associate directors of the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs. It is a historic appointment, as no other American Indian is believed to have 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.

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 is being heralded as the first tribal member to hold the position.

Politically-conscious American Indians are already hailing the appointment as extraordinary.

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.”

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“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 in a statement. “Gillette’s appointment, this early in the administration, is a good sign.”

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.

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.”

Gillette was not immediately available for comment. She has in the past advocated 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,” the new president said in a statement. “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 anticipate that Obama will appoint at least one more Native American person to serve in his administration.