The next Interior Secretary should understand tribal sovereignty

Kenneth Kahn is the Tribal Chairman of the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians.


Chumash leader says Rep. Jeff Denham has made Indian Country issues a priority while in Congress

Kenneth Kahn

With the departure of Ryan Zinke from the Department of the Interior, Indian Country has an opportunity to advocate for the appointment of a new secretary who has a clear understanding of tribal sovereignty and other crucial matters that concern native people.

I am submitting this open letter to encourage Congressman Jeff Denham, R-California, to consider putting his name forward for the position, and I would encourage my fellow tribal leaders to ask him to do the same.

Denham was elected in 2010 to represent a largely agriculturally based district in California’s central valley. While his district does not include any of California’s 109 federally recognized tribes, he has made it a priority to serve on the panel with jurisdiction over Indian Country during his entire career in Congress. During his years on the House Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs, Denham has served as a powerful voice for the under-represented and worked on a bipartisan basis to introduce dozens of bills to protect the sovereign rights of tribes and the dignity of native people.

The next two years will see a number of critical issues come before the Department of Interior, including seeing through the ongoing efforts to reorganize the agency itself. Having a person at the helm of this agency who fully understands and values the relationship between tribes and United States has never been more pressing. I believe Congressman Jeff Denham is that person, and I would encourage others to support him as well.

Kenneth Kahn is the Tribal Chairman of the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians.