New director named at USDA's Office of Tribal Relations
WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Jan. 25, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced the appointment of Heather Dawn Thompson as director of the Office of Tribal Relations reporting to the secretary of agriculture.
Thompson is a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, a Harvard Law School graduate, and an expert in American Indian law, tribal sovereignty, and rural tribal economic development. With Thompson in place, the USDA will return the OTR directly under the secretary, restoring the office’s important government-to-government role.
Most recently, Thompson served a member of the American Indian Law Practice Group at Greenberg Traurig, where she worked on federal Indian law and tribal agriculture. Thompson has a long record of public service, beginning as a Presidential Management Fellow at the Department of Justice. Since then, Thompson has served as a law clerk with the attorney general’s office for the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, as counsel and policy adviser to the U.S. Senate’s Democratic Policy Committee, and as an assistant U.S. attorney for South Dakota’s Indian Country section, where she prosecuted cases involving violence against women and children.
In the private sector, Thompson was previously a partner at Dentons, where she was one of only a handful of Native American partners at an “AmLaw 100” law firm. In addition, she has served as the director of government affairs for the National Congress of American Indians, president of the South Dakota Indian Country Bar Association, and president of the National Native American Bar Association. Thompson holds a Juris Doctor cum laude from Harvard Law School, as well as a master’s degree in public policy from the University of Florida, and a bachelor’s degree in International Studies from Carnegie Mellon University.
“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,” said Katharine Ferguson, chief of staff, office of the secretary. “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.”