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Wizipan Garriott named Obama’s First Americans Public Liaison

WASHINGTON – Wizipan Garriott, 28, has been appointed First Americans Public Liaison, a newly created position in President-elect Barack Obama’s transition team. The position is aimed at honoring a nation-to-nation relationship with tribes.

Amy Brundage, a spokeswoman for the team, confirmed Garriott’s role Dec. 10.

Garriott, a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, could not offer comment on the development, as members of Obama’s transition team have been instructed not to talk about their specific contributions.

Garriott’s position on the transition group brings the total number of Native Americans serving on it to seven. Indian Country Today previously reported that John Echohawk, Keith Harper, Robert Anderson, Mary Smith, Mary McNeil and Yvette Robideaux all hold positions on the team.

Garriott, whose first name means “burden” in Lakota, graduated from Yale University in 2003 with a degree in American studies. He then went on to work as an assistant to former Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., who has been a key player in the Obama campaign and was recently tapped to lead the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

After Daschle lost his bid for re-election in 2004, Garriott attended the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law in Tucson, and obtained a law degree there in June. In 2005, he also helped incorporate the He Sapa Leadership Academy, a college preparatory school on his reservation for students in grades eight to 12.

As Daschle became involved with Obama’s campaign, the longtime politician ultimately recommended Garriott to become a part of the effort.

Daschle’s recommendation was helpful, as Garriott ended up joining the Obama campaign for president as a Native American outreach coordinator in Sept. 2007. In June, he was officially hired as the campaign’s First Americans vote director. His chief objective was collaborating with tribes and Native groups, trying to get out the Native vote in many states, including New Mexico, Wisconsin, Montana and Michigan.

“For us, the campaign has always been about community empowerment,” Garriott told ICT in late-September.

“We’ve tried to put as many resources as possible into Indian communities so we can help our own people organize and empower themselves. That’s what this is all about.”

He also predicted in the interview that Indian participation in the election would help sway the vote in close swing states.

Garriott is the son of Elizabeth Little Elk, who works for the Rosebud Sioux Tribe in the child and family services arena, and Charlie Garriott, a teacher at Todd County High School, located on the reservation in Mission, S.D.

While in college, Garriott served as a peer counselor to younger Native students. Amid controversy over whether there should be ethnic counselors and cultural houses at the institution, he made it be known that he felt such networks are beneficial, especially for reservation youth.

In a December 2002 issue of The Yale Herald, Garriott noted that the majority of reservation youth hail from economically depressed areas, which can make it especially difficult for Indian students to adjust to mainstream colleges, both academically and culturally.

At Yale, Garriott also worked as vice-president of Night Shield Entertainment, a music-focused company founded by one of his Native friends, Gabriel Night Shield. Garriott assisted with promotion and helped with efforts on distribution, talent evaluation and music selection.

Upon learning of Garriott’s new appointment, Night Shield said he and many other tribal members were “really proud of what Wizi has accomplished.”

“We were joking about it the other day – maybe in about 20 years we’ll be voting for Wizi as president,” said Night Shield, who attended high school at St. Francis Indian School with Garriott in South Dakota.