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Interior chief visits Carnegie

CARNEGIE  Following meetings with tribal leadership Thursday evening, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke and his deputy assistant were embraced warmly by the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma during an event at the tribal headquarters. 

For Deputy Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs John Tahsuda III, a Kiowa tribal member, it was a homecoming.

"It's an honor to have Mr. Zinke and Mr. Tahsuda here on our land ... it was a very productive meeting," said Tribal Chairman Matt Komalty. "They listened to us."

Komalty said that when told of Zinke's impending visit "2 or 3 days ago," he'd wanted to share the news but was  told to keep it under his hat. Following discussions in the late afternoon, he said he believes the secretary has the right intentions in his role.

"I'm very proud to introduce Mr. Zinke, a former (Navy) SEAL and former Montana senator," Komalty said. "His primary interest is the land."

The secretary told the assembled members of the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma that he serves them and all American Indians. They are his constituents.

"My job is to be an advocate for all the Nations," Zinke said, "that's my job: to defend the Nations."

"It is my honor to represent you," he said. "I care."

Zinke described the invitation and hospitality shown by the Kiowa people as "an honor." He was led into the tribe's AOA building by leadership of the Kiowa Black Leggings Warrior Society, an ancient elite brotherhood of warriors, along with the pounding drum of reverie. He said he felt a connection from his membership in the SEALS, itself a modern warrior society of the elite. An honorary adopted member of the Assiniboine people due to a friendship with a young SEAL who has since died, he described a kinship held with the warrior culture of the Plains Tribes. Thursday night was his welcome into the kinship of the Southern Plains' warrior culture. There are many similarities, he said, but also many singularities. 

The secretary cited his primary experiences with the Montana tribes as his introduction into Indian affairs. But it's been the past year in his role with the current administration that's opened Zinke's eyes to the role of the Department of the Interior (DOI)  the fourth oldest department of the federal government. It also opened his eyes to the unique qualities of each tribe and the many bands within tribes.

"All tribes are different," Zinke said. "It's a mistake to say that all tribes or bands are monolithic  one size doesn't fit all."

One of the aspects of the DOI that is frustrating, Zinke said, is the amount of bureaucracy that gets in the way of handling matters at the front lines with tribal leaders. He said consultation with the tribes will be a primary method used to look at issues affecting the 562 federally recognized Native American tribes. It means dealing with each tribe as a unique and equal nation. It also means cutting through red tape, something he said would be easier with a larger staff. 

"Sovereignty should mean something," Zinke said. "Our government was put in place to work for and by the people and we've got to get better."

Zinke said he'd come to Carnegie to learn more about the Kiowa people, their needs and that it was "helpful" to sit down and learn from tribal members first-hand. 

Joining Zinke on the trip was Deputy Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs John Tahsuda III, a Kiowa tribal member who has worked in the past at the Senate and on the Hill as an advocate. This is his first administrative role. With last summer's revamping of the Kiowa constitution, an end to turmoil from years of tribal leadership issues is being met with a new energy. Tahsuda called it a "rebirth" for his people.

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