WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Thursday nominated University of New Mexico law school dean Kevin Washburn to be the next assistant secretary of Interior for Indian affairs, the highest ranking federal post for Native American issues.
Washburn, if confirmed by the Senate, will oversee the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Bureau of Indian Education.
Washburn, a member of the Chickasaw Nation in Oklahoma, has “demonstrated knowledge and dedication throughout (his) career,” the president said in a statement announcing the nomination.
“I’m deeply honored — it’s an exceedingly important responsibility to serve the nation’s Indian tribes and the Indian people,” Washburn told the Journal.
“It’s been very difficult to make the decision to leave New Mexico because I really love the law community here,” he said. “But it’s such an honor and responsibility, I’m looking forward to being considered for it.”
Washburn has served as dean of the UNM law school since June 2009. In June, he testified before Congress on the need to provide more resources nationally for tribal law enforcement.
Before UNM, Washburn served as the Rosenstiel Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of Arizona from 2008 to 2009 and as an associate professor of law at the University of Minnesota from 2002 to 2008.
Washburn also served as general counsel for the National Indian Gaming Commission from 2000 to 2002, and as an assistant United States attorney in Albuquerque from 1997 to 2000.
Washburn earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Oklahoma and a law degree from Yale Law School.
In a letter to his law school colleagues Thursday, Washburn voiced a strong attachment to New Mexico and noted that his legal education began in 1990 at UNM’s Pre-Law Summer Institute for American Indians.
“I have loved this law school, as well as the state of New Mexico, ever since,” he wrote.
New Mexico’s U.S. senators praised the president’s nominee.
“UNM’s School of Law has flourished under the direction of Kevin Washburn,” said Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M, a UNM law graduate and a member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. “Like former Assistant Secretary Larry Echo Hawk, Kevin will bring to the position an in-depth understanding of the issues that are important to tribes in New Mexico.”
“Kevin Washburn has what it takes to be an outstanding assistant secretary for Indian Affairs,” Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., said. “There are many pressing needs in Indian Country, so it is my hope that the Senate moves quickly to confirm Kevin to this important position.”
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Washburn has crucial experience for the job.
“Kevin Washburn has a keen understanding of the many issues that affect Indian Country,” Salazar said. “His strong professional and academic experience will be a key asset to the department as we continue to strengthen the integrity of the government-to-government relationship with Indian tribes and empower Native American and Alaska Native communities. He will be an excellent addition to our team.”