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Kunesh to serve in lead HHS position for Natives

Patrice H. Kunesh, of Standing Rock Lakota descent, has been nominated to serve as commissioner of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Administration for Native Americans (ANA).

The Biden administration made the announcement June 22 in a news release. The U.S. Senate must confirm the appointment.

Patrice H. Kunesh (Via Indian Country Today)

The position promotes self-sufficiency for Native Americans by providing funding for community-based projects, training, and technical assistance to eligible tribal nations and Native organizations. The position includes roles in Native language preservation, social and economic development, and the administration of American Rescue Plan Act programs. ANA partners with related programs in the administration for children and families, other HHS programs, and other federal agencies and nonprofit organizations.

Kunesh currently works on the development team at the Native American Rights Fund, where she has held multiple positions. She recently founded Peȟíŋ Haha Consulting, described as a social enterprise committed to fostering culturally centered Native economic development. In addition, she established the Center for Indian Country Development, an economic policy research initiative, at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.

Kunesh previously served as in-house counsel to the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and on the faculty at the University of South Dakota School of Law. She has held appointments as the deputy undersecretary for rural development at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and as the deputy solicitor for Indian Affairs at the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Kunesh earned a law degree from the University of Colorado Law School and a master’s degree in public administration from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

“Her extensive experience, partnership and leadership in championing solutions for Indian Country will ensure that critical language revitalization and social and economic development initiatives promote tribal sovereignty, economic prosperity, and preserve our way of life for the next seven generations and beyond,” Fawn Sharp, president of the National Congress of American Indians, said in a statement.