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The Biden Administration on Thursday nominated former Bay Mills Indian Community Chairperson Bryan Newland to the top leadership position for the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs. 

In February, Newland stepped down after three and a half years leading the federally recognized Ojibwe tribe to take on the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary position within the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which is part of the U.S. Department of the Interior. This week, the Biden administration said it plans to elevate Newland to become the next Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs, effectively the top political role within the BIA. 

If confirmed by the Senate for the position, Newland will be tasked to assist Secretary of the Interior Debra Haaland (Laguna Pueblo) — the first Native American to serve in that role — with fulfilling the federal government’s trust responsibilities for federally recognized American Indian and Alaska Native tribes and villages, as well as individual Indian trust beneficiaries. 

The Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs also is responsible for maintaining government-to-government relationships with all sovereign tribal nations in the U.S.

News of Newland’s appointment drew praise from groups in Indian Country, including from fellow tribal leaders from Michigan. 

“The president could not have selected a more deserving and experienced Native American to serve Indian Country,” Matthew Wesaw, chairman of the Dowagiac-based Pokagon Band of Potawatomi, said in a statement to Tribal Business News. “Bryan has shown, through his strong leadership, that he is more than capable to represent Indian Country in D.C. Bryan has done a tremendous job leading his community on both a national and state level. While being a young leader he has represented himself on behalf of Indian Country as a knowledgeable, skilled veteran of the protection of Native sovereignty. We look forward to his continued leadership.”

Bob Peters, chairman of the Bradley-based Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians, also hailed Newland’s nomination. 

“As a recent colleague of mine being a fellow tribal leader here in Michigan, I am both proud of Bryan for his appointment to this prestigious position, and also optimistic that he can make a real difference in the lives of Indian people throughout the United States,” Peters said in a statement to Tribal Business News.

For Whitney Gravelle, Newland’s nomination hits close to home. She succeeded Newland in a special election to permanently fill the chairperson position he formerly held for the Bay Mills Indian Community. 

“I told him this at his going away gathering, but I know he will take his nurturing spirit to Indian Country,” Gravelle said in a statement. “A great leader is just not someone who makes great decisions, but believes in the potential of others, and nurtures their abilities and helps them reach their own goals. Great leaders nurture other leaders and when Bryan was with us he nurtured all of us at Bay Mills. So, I have no doubt in his new role, he will nurture all of Indian Country.”

Likewise, Chief Timothy J. Davis of the Mount Pleasant-based Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe called Newland’s appointment “significant” for both the tribal communities in Michigan and for Indian Country at large. 

“We’re excited that someone from our region is on a national platform for us,” Davis said in a statement provided to Tribal Business News. “Like with Deb Haaland’s appointment, bringing Native Americans forward in the administration to deal with environmental and Native issues on a federal level is such an honor and well founded by the Biden administration. It shows a true spirit of sovereignty within our treaties.”

A graduate of the Michigan State University College of Law and the James Madison College, Newland was born and raised on the Bay Mills Reservation near Brimley, Mich., located west of Sault Ste. Marie along Lake Superior. He formerly served as chief judge for the Bay Mills Indian Community Tribal Court and was an attorney at Lansing-based Fletcher Law, which specializes in American Indian law. 

The new appointment marks a return to the Washington, D.C. scene for Newland, who was a counselor and policy adviser to the head of the BIA under the Obama administration from 2009 to 2012. 

In his prior tenure, Newland helped to reform the BIA’s regulations for leasing lands held in trust for the tribes, and also helped implement the Helping Expedite and Advance Responsible Tribal Home Ownership (HEARTH) Act of 2012, which also streamlined the process for tribes to execute commercial leases on trust lands.

Toni Stanger-McLaughlin, director of programs at Fayetteville, Ark.-based Native American Agriculture Fund, called Newland “an outstanding pick” to lead the BIA. 

“Newland’s background as an attorney, national policy advisor, and Tribal leader have equipped him with a unique skill set that will allow him to be incredibly effective as soon as he is confirmed,” Stanger-McLaughlin (Colville) said in a statement. “A decade ago, when working across departments with Bryan, he was always receptive to Native American Farmers and Ranchers’ needs and willing to facilitate work between the Department of Interior and the United States Department of Agriculture. Through his leadership, we can build stronger economies for everyone.”

As well, National Congress of American Indians President Fawn Sharp applauded the pick, which she noted was announced on Earth Day. She praised Newland’s “well-known and respected” record of service for his tribe and within Indian Country. 

“Indian Country is poised for investment and new opportunities for economic growth and the time is right for new leadership. We are ready to engage in initiatives that create a sustainable, inclusive, and strategic agenda for Indian Country,” Sharp said in a statement. “With Bryan Newland as Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, along with the first Native American Secretary of Interior, we will have that critical voice for our traditional cultures, our tribal economies, and the healing of our broken relationship with the federal government.”

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About The Author
Joe Boomgaard
Managing Editor
Joe Boomgaard is the founding managing editor of Tribal Business News and is based in Grand Rapids, Mich., where he also serves as editor of MiBiz, a regional business publication. Boomgaard has reported on non-gaming economic development in Indian Country for the last 15 years and oversees the newsroom for Tribal Business News. He also contributes reporting on tribal economic development activities, Alaska Native corporations and federal contracting.
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