ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The U.S. Senate has confirmed a member of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma who is currently the dean of the University of New Mexico Law School to oversee the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
The Senate approved President Barack Obama's nomination of Kevin Washburn as Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs by unanimous consent late Friday. The vote was applauded by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar.
"As we continue to strengthen the integrity of the nation's government-to-government relationship with federally-recognized Indian tribes and empower Native American and Alaska Native communities, Kevin Washburn will be an outstanding addition to our leadership team and a vital asset for President Obama's initiatives in Indian Country," Salazar said in a statement.
Washburn has been UNM law school dean since June 2009. He also worked as a federal prosecutor and has taught at law schools at the University of Arizona and the University of Minnesota.
"Kevin understands the pressing needs of Indian Country, and he brings the experience and enthusiasm needed to meet those challenges, Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., said in a statement Saturday. "The Senate's quick approval of his nomination demonstrates the broad support he has in Washington and around the country."
After his August nomination, Washburn won praise from the president of the National Congress of American Indians, who also is lieutenant governor of the Chickasaw Nation.
"Law enforcement and trust reform will be two of the most important issues for the BIA in the coming years," Jefferson Keel said. "Kevin's experience as a federal prosecutor will be a great benefit."
Washington worked with the tribal group to develop and pass a federal law aimed at combatting crime on reservations, known as the Tribal Law and Order Act. He is known as an expert in federal American Indian law and policy, with a focus on law enforcement, the group said.
Navajo President Ben Shelly said after the nomination that the tribe is looking forward to Washburn's expertise in advancing issues in Indian Country, such as economic development, infrastructure, renewable energy, and improving public safety and education.
Washburn said during his confirmation hearing this week that he would work to ensure the federal government meets its obligations to American Indians and would support those tribes working toward greater self-governance.