Vincent Schilling
Sec. Jewell: “I feel the pressure of time. I recognize how difficult it is to get things done.”

Sec. Jewell Feels the Pressure of Time When Dealing With Native Issues

Vincent Schilling

Sworn in as the 51st Secretary of the Interior on April 12, 2013, Sally Jewell leads a governmental agency with more than 70,000 employees while stewarding 20 percent of the nation’s lands, including national parks, national wildlife refuges, and other public lands; and upholds trust responsibilities to the 566 federally recognized American Indian tribes and Alaska Natives.

Recently, after Secretary Jewell signed a $60 million dollar water rights settlement for the Shoshone-Paiute in Washington, D.C. – she took a moment to speak with ICTMN about her role as the DOI Secretary, her thoughts about the Obama administration and the Center for Native American Youth 2015 Champions for Change.

RELATED: Secretary Jewell’s $60 Million Dollar Signature Fulfills Shoshone-Paiute Water Rights

You were most recently at the reception for the Center for Native American Youth's champions for change as the keynote speaker can you comment on that?

Five Champions for Change – incredible young people who have stepped out personally to say I want to be part of the solution – my tribe and my region have an opportunity to do better than we have done in the past. I see some things going on in my community that are distressing to me and I want to be part of that solution.

It was amazing to sit down with these young people whose ideals ranged from getting more people to college, to dealing with sexual abuse, to helping young kids understand what they could do if they are victimized. These were tough topics, but five young people from Alaska, the lower 48, from Hawaii are all doing incredibly inspirational things. By highlighting what they did at the Center for Native American Youth is telling all of the young people in Indian country – you can be like these inspirational young leaders and you can step up and lead within your tribe and you can make a difference just as they are. It was amazing.

RELATED: Highlighting the Resiliency of Native Youth Through Champions for Change

Can you talk about the success of last year's White House tribal Nations conference and the Obama administration's support for Native American youth to include your recent efforts for the good of Native young people?

It's very exciting. We have been working within the Department of the Interior on doing a better job for Native American youth than we ever have before. This is one of those circumstances that you can't keep doing the same thing over and over and expect different results.

As we have looked at the performance of Native American kids particularly in schools that we fund or operate, they are worse even than state schools. Indian kids overall in the United States do not fare as well as their peers in different groups. We have got to do better.

The president's visit to Standing Rock In June with Mrs. Obama in which they sat down with six tribal youth – the president did a brilliant job in a short period of time to create an environment where they could open up. He was shocked by what he heard. He heard about suicide, he heard about reality. It is a very sad reality that we play a role in helping to turn around.

RELATED: Youth the Focus of President's Visit to Standing Rock

Tribal leaders play a part too – this has got to be an all hands on deck approach.

The president has said to his cabinet, 'I want all of you engaged in this.' He said to me as chair of the White House Council on Native American Affairs, 'I am holding you accountable…' He took me by both shoulders and said, 'I expect you to do something.' Because he really cares and this administration really cares.

As my colleagues and I on the cabinet have looked at how easy or not easy it is to do business with us, we recognize we do not make it easy. We need to have more of a clearinghouse so people can figure out what the programs are that are available to them. We need to knock down some of those complicated barriers that in some cases benefit the tribes that are wealthier and more sophisticated – and those who need it most are less able to apply for grants and services. These are the realities.

Part of the initiative that the White House is supporting is called Generation Indigenous, which is working with organizations like Unity, the Center for Native American Youth, to engage young people to say act like these five champions for change, share what you're learning, engage others in this process and inspire others through your work. We are trying to create a platform to shine a spotlight on a lot of these issues. Shining that spotlight is going to help to hold us accountable for doing a better job.

RELATED: The White House Aims for Change With Gen-I Native Youth Challenge

I would say with this fourth quarter well underway for this administration, our goal is to chart the path forward which has so much momentum that it cannot be stopped by any future president or administration. It just has to continue and we are going to need the support of Indian country and tribal leadership to make that happen. Not only to hold us accountable but to do their part in supporting their tribal members.

How has your position as the secretary of the Department of the Interior been? Do you ever think what have I gotten myself into?

Oh yeah, all the time. It doesn't feel new anymore. We joke that these are dog years. I am almost through year two and almost through the first half of my term here. I feel the pressure of time. I recognize how difficult it is to get things done. Indian water rights settlements take decades, how do you come in to move things forward? How can you win the hearts and minds of career staff who will be here long after you are gone?

We are revamping Indian education – so how do I make a case that is compelling for the career staff who otherwise could just outlast me, Monty Russell and Kevin K. Washburn? Because it has to make sense for them, we have to listen to them and the people they serve. There is no ramp up time in this job you are thrust in from day one. People interview you and everything that you say that's goofy will be used against you the entire time you are in this office so the pressure is on.

The ability to get stuff done in this job is very real and I would say what's happening in Indian country is a good example of that. There are things that are difficult to get done because of process but it doesn't mean you don't try with all of your might to make that happen. We know the end date is January 2017, we know how long things take and we have a map of progress. We are holding ourselves accountable for making progress and I'm optimistic we can get a lot of stuff done.

What is your position on tribal entities and marijuana?

I don't have a comment because I am not in the thick of this. It is very complicated and I think if I was a tribal government official, I would let some of this sort itself out before I dive into the middle of it because it is so complicated – especially when you are talking about something that has the potential to be a substance that some people can abuse. I think the dust needs to settle a little before we try figuring this out.

President Brian Cladoosby of the NCAI said this is the best administration ever for Indian country. What are your thoughts of being part of this administration?

The White House Tribal Nations Conference that was held last year by the president I do not see going away. I think a future president would be crazy to not welcome our nation's first people and leaders to Washington, D.C. to truly be partners in these government-to-government relationships. I see that continuing.

The White House Council on Native American Affairs was established by an executive order – that means it continues unless a future executive order undoes that executive order. I cannot see that happening.

As people continue to engage with tribes – and we have a lot of momentum to do this down to the staff level, they will remove the fear and stereotype and provide them with what I have – that is a real working relationship with tribal leaders and recognition for everything that they have to offer. This will move us away from what has been around for as long as the U.S. government has been around – which is a paternalistic relationship. I think this is unhealthy.

Changes that have occurred with this administration will persist. I think the tribes and tribal leadership has been more empowered to stand up for their rights as government-to-government partners. I don't see them backing down either. I would encourage your readers to step up and take the bull by the horns – whenever the next administration is in here and say this is what worked well for us. Please Mr. or Madame President, may this continue.

I cannot imagine a future president not paying attention to that.

Watch part of the interview below:

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David Deloria
David Deloria
Submitted by David Deloria on
She really believes FRACKING can be done safely she is not for the will of the people, she best retire.