Tribes support Kunesh for Commissioner of the Administration for Native Americans
Call for U.S. Senate confirmation vote on her nomination in next 9 days.
WASHINGTON — As the U.S. Congress winds down its 117th session, tribes anticipate that Patrice Kunesh will soon receive the Senate’s confirmation to become commissioner of the Administration for Native Americans at the Department of Health and Human Services.
Kunesh, a longtime tribal advocate (bio below), was nominated to the position by President Joe Biden in June — to tribal acclaim — and tribes are concerned that she has not been confirmed to date.
The commissioner is responsible for overseeing the Administration for Native Americans, which “supports Native American communities by providing financial assistance and capacity building, gathering and sharing data, and advocating for improved policies within HHS and across the federal government,” according to its website.
Hope MacDonald LoneTree currently serves as its acting commissioner and deputy commissioner in the management of the nationwide discretionary grant program.
The agency hasn’t had a permanent commissioner since Jeannie Hovland vacated the post at the start of the Biden administration. She’s currently the vice-chair of the National Indian Gaming Commission.
The Coalition of Large Tribes (COLT) recently issued a statement of support for Kunesh, hoping her confirmation will move in the next 9 days. If it does not, she would have to be re-nominated in the next Congress.
“Ms. Kunesh is deeply committed to protect[ing] tribal sovereignty, preserv[ing] Native American culture, language and tradition and building brighter futures for Native American communities,” COLT said in a statement. “Ms. Kunesh is eminently qualified to serve in this important role.
“COLT strongly supports the confirmation of Ms. Kunesh by the U.S. Senate,” the organization continued. “COLT requests each U.S. Senator of each congressional delegation of each Member tribe to urge his or her respective leadership that this confirmation be brought up immediately for a vote by the U.S. Senate. COLT urges the U.S. Senate to swiftly confirm Ms. Kunesh.”
Tribal advocates are frankly surprised that Kunesh has not already been confirmed.
“Too much slow moving on tribe-focused nominees,” one tribal leader told Indigenous Wire, referencing this position as well as the long time it took to confirm Roselyn Tso as director of the Indian Health Service.
“Indian Country has major needs, and positions like the commissioner of the Administration for Native Americans often help the tribes who are in the most need,” the tribal leader said.
Kunesh, founder of both Peȟíŋ Haha Consulting and the Center for Indian Country Development at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, earlier this year wrote in an essay published on Indigenous Wire about problems facing a disproportionate number of Indigenous children and young people who have lost their parents, grandparents and other caregivers during the pandemic era.
“While recent studies show that COVID-19 seems to be less common and less severe in children, the pandemic has upended the lives of thousands of U.S. children who have lost parents or primary caregivers in the pandemic,” Kunesh wrote. “Among these COVID ‘orphans,’ a staggering number of Native children have lost parents and caregivers. These children face an ‘epidemic of mental health challenges,’ but only partly because of the COVID-19 pandemic — their well-being should be our top policy priority.”
She suggested the following strategies to aid Native young people:
Ensuring tribal and federal policies and budget prioritize the health, well-being, and education of Native youth.
Advancing equity and eliminating disparities among services and programs.
Maintaining children in their families and supporting kinship care.
Providing and bolstering child resilience through quality childcare programs.
COLT’s full resolution of support for Kunesh is online here, and reprinted below is her bio:
Patrice H. Kunesh, of Standing Rock Lakota descent, has committed her career to public service, including several positions at the tribal, state, and federal level. Kunesh recently returned to the Native American Rights Fund, where she began her legal career. Since then, she has served as in-house Counsel to the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and on the faculty at the University of South Dakota School of Law. Kunesh also held appointments as the Deputy Under Secretary for Rural Development at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and as the Deputy Solicitor for Indian Affairs at the U.S. Department of the Interior. In addition, she established the Center for Indian Country Development, an economic policy research initiative, at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
Kunesh recently founded Peȟíŋ Haha Consulting, a social enterprise committed to fostering culturally-centered Native economic development, and she was appointed to the US Treasury Community Development Advisory Board (CDFI Fund) as the representative for Native communities. She holds a JD from the University of Colorado School of Law and an MPA from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.
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