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Heather Dawn Thompson, from Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, appointed to USDA leadership post

Heather Dawn Thompson has been appointed director of the USDA’s Office of Tribal Relations. (Photo Greenberg Trauwig)

Heather Dawn Thompson (Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe) has been appointed director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Tribal Relations.

The anouncement from the USDA on Jan. 25 described Thompson as “an expert in American Indian law, tribal sovereignty, and rural tribal economic development.”

Thompson is a Harvard Law School graduate. Most recently she worked at Greenberg Traurig, an international law firm that started more than 50 years ago in South Florida. Thompson was a member of the firm’s American Indian law practice. Her backgrond includes work in federal Indian law and Tribal agriculture.

Thompson will report to the Secretary of Agriculture. Former Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who served in the Obama Administration, has been nominated by President Joe Biden to return to the position.

“Heather’s appointment to lead the Office of Tribal Relations is a step toward restoring the office and the position of director so that USDA can effectively maintain nation-to-nation relationships in recognition of tribal sovereignty and to ensure that meaningful tribal consultation is standard practice across the Department,” Katharine Ferguson, chief of staff, Office of the Secretary, said in a statement. “It’s also important to have a director who can serve as a lead voice on tribal issues, relations and economic development within the Office of the Secretary because the needs and priorities of tribal nations and Indigenous communities are cross cutting and must be kept front and center,”

According to the USDA, the Office of Tribal Relations “serves as a single point of contact for Tribal issues and works to ensure that relevant programs and policies are efficient, easy to understand, accessible, and developed in consultation with the American Indians and Alaska Native constituents they impact.”

Thompson serves on the advisory board of the Tribal Business Journal, according to TBJ’s website. The Seminole Tribe’s S.R. Tommie is also on the board. Thompson has also served in positions for the National Congress of American Indians, National Native American Bar Association and South Dakota Indian Country Bar Association.

Thompson’s background in public service includes stints at the Department of Justice and Attorney General’s Office for the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. She also served as an assistant U.S. Attorney for South Dakota’s Indian Country section.  

Thompson holds a Juris Doctor cum laude from Harvard Law School,  a master’s degree in public policy from the University of Florida, and a bachelor’s degree in International Studies from Carnegie Mellon University.