Monday, January 4, 2010

New DOL efforts aimed at addressing employment of Native Americans

The Obama administration is making noticeable efforts to address the employment concerns specific to Native Americans – an all-too-often overlooked group of workers. On December 18, 2009, the Department of Labor posted the first edition of its bimonthly Native American Newsletter. Among other actions, the newsletter reported that the department hosted, in advance of the White House Tribal Nations Conference on November 5th, a meeting with more than two hundred tribal leaders from across the country. Attendees at the meeting included Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis, Deputy Secretary Seth Harris, OFCCP Director Patricia Shiu, ETA Assistant Secretary Jane Oates, and VETS Assistant Secretary Ray Jefferson. The agency heads highlighted programs within the department that are focused exclusively on tribes, including the OFCCP’s TERO program and ETA’s Workforce Investment Act grant program for American Indians and Alaska Natives. Secretary Solis also told the gathering that she will be touring tribal lands in the upcoming year to gain first-hand insight into enhancing workforce and economic development.

Tribal employment rights forum. On December 10, OFCCP Director Shiu joined in a forum at the Council for Tribal Employment Rights' (CTER) 2009 Tribal Employment Law & Legal Updates Conference in Las Vegas. At the forum, Shiu discussed the OFCCP's role in Secretary Solis' stated goal of "good jobs for everyone" and the new, refocused agenda for the OFCCP with legal experts and resource professionals from the private, tribal and public sectors. In addition, OFCCP Pacific Regional Director William Smitherman signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) designed to promote a mutually beneficial working relationship between the CTER Pacific Northwest Region and the OFCCP. The ultimate goal of the MOU is to improve the services both agencies provide to the public, especially the Indian community.

Special Assistant for Indian Affairs. The newsletter also reports that Secretary Solis has appointed Nicole Willis to the newly created position of "Special Assistant to the Secretary [of Labor] for Indian Affairs." Willis (Cayuse, Nez Perce, Yakama, Oglala Lakota) worked for the Obama campaign as the First Americans Vote Deputy Director. She later joined the Presidential Inaugural Committee in its political office. In addition to her work with the Obama Administration, Willis has spent time working with her own tribe as well as at a small law firm specializing in Indian law.

Implementation of Clinton’s executive order on working with tribal governments. The Department of Labor also scheduled three consultation sessions, currently ongoing, to develop – in coordination with tribal governments – a plan of action to comply with President Obama's November 5, 2009 executive memorandum directing federal agencies to conduct activities designed to result in complete and consistent implementation of President Clinton's November 6, 2000 Executive Order 13175, Consultation and Coordination with Indian Tribal Governments. The goal of the sessions is for Labor Department officials to seek best practices from tribal leaders to ensure tribes are engaged at each step when the department initiates, develops and implements policies with tribal implications. The first session was held on December 14 in Washington, D.C. Upcoming session dates and locations include January 5, 2010, in Minneapolis, Minnesota and January 12, 2010, in Phoenix, Arizona.

Given that the unemployment rate for American Indians/Alaska Natives is notably higher than the rate for the general population, both government and private efforts to enhance employment opportunities for Native Americans should be applauded.

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