Without any formal announcement, Theresa Lujan snuck in under the radar back in early October as the new tribal liaison at the U.S. Department of Labor.
However, her work is not part of the permanent position; rather, she’s on a temporary detail.
“I’m responsible for being the liaison between the department and all its agencies and the tribal nations,” she explained in a recent interview with Tribal Business News. “I also participate in many work groups that have an emphasis on the tribal communities. So, I participate on the White House Council for Native American Affairs Work Group, the Tribal Treaty Rights Work Group and various other groups where we discuss implications for tribal nations in relation to our specific departments.”
After nearly 30 years of advocating from within the department for the permanent creation of such a position — as well as a dedicated Office of Tribal Affairs — to be established at Labor, one gets the feeling that Lujan is keeping her eye on bigger prizes hopefully to come.
Lujan started out at Labor as a secretary and worked her way up to become the director of the Indian and Native American Employment Rights Programs and later the director of the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs. Her Native heritage includes Chiricahua and Mescalero Apache, and Picuris Pueblo.
She knows all too well that career staffers at Labor who focus on tribal issues often get pulled in and out of discussions and high-level meetings that have tangential relations to their main work obligations. Without top-level focus, it can sometimes be difficult to maintain strong tribal relations and consultations, as tribes have complained about the agency in the past.
That reality continues to prove to her the necessity for greater Native inclusion at higher levels of Labor, as she said during a June 16 meeting of the department’s Native American Employment and Training Council.
“We need to have a subject matter expert in DOL in the Office of Congressional and Intergovernmental Affairs to help us navigate through so many of these different programs and to bring together all of these different groups, like the National Congress of American Indians,” Lujan said at the time. “That was one of the things that came out from our tribal consultation with the tribal leaders, and we really need the secretary to act on that.”
In a recent interview with Tribal Business News, Lujan talked more about what’s going on inside Labor in a variety of tribal areas, including Secretary Marty Walsh’s renewed commitment to Indian Country.