An Alaskan has joined President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team. The Trump team has selected former state senator Jerry Ward as its liaison to the 500-plus federally recognized tribes.
The selection was a surprise to Ward. He’s in Washington now to help with the inauguration plans, focusing on Western state participation.
“Along with that I am also working on Native American affairs, in a liaison position,” Ward said.
Discussions are on-going about perhaps serving in the Trump administration beyond Jan. 20, when Trump takes the oath of office, Ward said.
“I might possibly have a more permanent position somewhere, yes, concerning Native American affairs,” he said.
Ward coordinated Trump’s Alaska campaign.
He is an Alaska Native and was a state senator representing Southcentral Alaska from 1997 until 2002. His campaign for re-election in 2004 was implicated in a federal corruption probe, but Ward was never charged.
Ward also was an Alaska delegate to the Republican National Convention this summer, where his leather vest with Athabascan bead work set him apart in the massive crowd.
Even if his liaison duties are only temporary, there’s a lot to do.
There are hundreds of federally recognized tribes, 229 in Alaska alone. Ward already is setting up meetings.
“There are a little under 560 of them. I have reached out and had contact with the National Congress of American Indians. Also to the Navajo Nation, who is not totally a part of that organization,” he said. “And then I have a meeting Friday with … a person involved with the Alaska Federation of Natives.”
Ward said he normally does have contact with Alaska tribes.
“I would say a fair amount,” he said. “I know a lot of them.”
(The number of tribes the federal government recognizes is subject to change. Today, the Department of Interior website says 565. The BIA site says 567.)
The biggest tribal action in years is playing out in North Dakota now, where thousands of protesters are fighting a pipeline they say endangers water quality and sacred sites of the Standing Rock Sioux. Ward says it was up to the Obama administration to have meaningful consultation with tribes over the project.
“I don’t have first-hand knowledge of whether they have or have not, but they certainly, according to federal law are supposed to have conversations,” Ward said.
Trump, if he chooses to focus on it, will have big shoes to fill when it comes to tribal relations. President Barack Obama has given tribes more management authority over natural resources, elevated their status with an annual White House conference, and settled lawsuits that will send hundreds of millions of dollars to tribes.
Native American Rights Fund attorney Heather Kendall-Miller, who supported Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, was disheartened by the Trump team’s selection of Ward.
“He has not had any involvement or experience as a tribal advocate or as a tribal representative, dealing with governance issues, at the tribal level,” she said.
Kendall-Miller said Ward is better known for his disputes with Cook Inlet Region Inc. over corporate board elections.
Ward is a shareholder in CIRI and also Doyon.