U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell today named two highly experienced American Indian leaders to direct the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Bureau of Indian Education respectively.
Weldon “Bruce” Loudermilk, an enrolled member of the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation, will take the helm at BIA, succeeding Michael S. Black, who has served as director since 2010.
Tony Dearman, Cherokee, will take over as director of the BIE, replacing Ann Marie Bledsoe, who has served as interim director since Monty Roessell was removed from the position in March following allegations that he had misused his authority.
Loudermilk takes over as BIA is implementing new regulations for granting federal recognition to tribes, preparing to introduce a new model code for juvenile justice for tribal courts, working on strengthening ICWA implementation and compliance, executing the Cobell Land Buy-Back Program to recover fractionated lands on behalf of tribes and creating a bigger role for tribes in the management of federal lands. The agency is also coping with fallout from the Gold King Mine spill that contaminated water and agricultural resources in New Mexico, a drug and suicide crisis among Native youth, a Supreme Court decision that limits the department’s authority to take land into trust for tribes and the largest-ever American Indian protest against corporate interests threatening tribal lands.
Dearman will lead BIE through a major transition period as the agency works to increase tribes’ exercise of sovereignty by taking over BIE schools and taking control of their children’s education. BIE serves nearly 50,000 children in 183 BIE-funded elementary and secondary day and boarding schools and dormitories located on 64 reservations in 23 states. The BIE also provides scholarships for college and university students and supports funding to 27 tribal colleges and universities and two tribal technical colleges. BIE has come under heavy criticism for the physical condition of many of its facilities and for poor academic achievement – as measured by standardized testing and high school graduation rates – among the students it serves.
Dearman says, “I am honored for the opportunity to serve tribal communities and pledge my continuing commitment to the well-being and education of Native students. I am excited to work with the Department, tribes, and students to provide great educational opportunities for students in BIE-funded schools.”
Both Loudermilk and Dearman come to these Indian Affairs directorships with stellar resumes.
Loudermilk has served as the BIA Regional Director for the Alaska Region since January 2014.
He served as the Great Plains Regional Director from 2010 to 2014 and before that, as the Deputy Regional Director-Indian Services, Great Plains Region from March 2008 to June 2010. Prior to joining the BIA, Loudermilk worked in the Interior Department’s Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians (OST) as a Financial Trust Services Officer and as a Fiduciary Trust Officer.
He holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Business Administration from Montana State University-Billings and a Master’s Degree from Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government.
Dearman has served as the Associate Deputy Director for bureau-operated schools since November 2015, where he helped implement BIE reorganization and reform, overseeing 17 schools, four off-reservation boarding schools, and one dormitory. Previously, he was superintendent at Riverside Indian School.
He holds an Associate of Arts degree from Bacone College in Muskogee, Oklahoma, and a Bachelor of Science Degree in Education and a Master’s Degree in School Administration from Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Oklahoma.
Sec. Jewell emphasized that these appointments will put Indian Affairs in a strong position to carry on its work effectively and without interruption as a new U.S. president takes office in January.
“It’s vitally important to our nation-to-nation relationship that BIA and BIE leadership remains strong as we transition between Administrations. Our actions today ensure that Indian country will continue to be well-served at the highest career levels. Bruce and Tony bring talent and experience as managers of Indian Affairs offices and programs and will be advocates for federally-recognized tribes, playing critical roles in carrying out our trust and treaty obligations, and furthering our commitment to tribal self-governance and self-determination.”
These are not political appointments, but permanent positions, explains Jessica Kershaw, Interior Department deputy director of communications, so Loudermilk and Dearman would be expected to remain in their jobs whoever is elected U.S. president next week.
Michael S. Black, Oglala Sioux, whose role Loudermilk is assuming, has served as BIA Director since April 2010. He will move on to a new role as Special Assistant to the BIA Director, and will be stationed in Billings, Montana, where he will help BIA manage implementation of the Land Buy Back Program, the Indian Energy Service Center, and assistance to regions in western time zones.
Sec. Jewell says, “Mike Black deserves our thanks and admiration for his dedicated service as Director of the BIA, especially focusing on the important work of restoring tribal homelands, returning leasing decisions to the hands of tribal communities, and facilitating tribal economic opportunities. Mike is the longest serving Director in the BIA’s history, and we are grateful for his dedication, enthusiasm and commitment to public service.”
Ann Marie Bledsoe, who served as interim BIE Director since March 2016, will remain in her role as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Economic Development.
“I commend Ann Marie for stepping up to serve as interim BIE Director, leading the important transformation effort and guiding the search for a permanent director. Ann Marie’s vision, guidance and persistence have served BIE students, staff and teachers well and we commend her for her tireless and effective leadership in support of tribal youth,” says Jewell.