Jackson getting his feet wet in historic new position at State Dept.

By Cindy Yurth
Tséyi' Bureau

CHINLE, Sept. 12, 2013

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Seven weeks into his job as the first-ever senior advisor and liaison for Native American Affairs at the U.S. State Department, Jack C.Jackson Jr. says he's "still learning the acronyms."

"There's a lot of them," he said in a telephone interview last Thursday.

Jackson, 54, Diné, learned he was being considered for the appointment in January, shortly after being elected to a second term in the Arizona State Senate.

He vacated his seat to start the new position in July, leaving a controversy in his wake as state Rep. Albert Hale (D-St. Michaels) challenged the appointment of Carlyle Begay as Jackson's replacement. Hale claims Begay lives in Gilbert, Ariz., which is outside the district he is representing, while Begay says he has always maintained a residence in Ganado, which he is now occupying full-time.

As for Jackson, he's staying out of the fray and focusing on his new job, which has a high learning curve considering it's a brand new position.

"The position was created as part of the (State) department's response to the President's objective to establish regular and meaningful consultation with tribal officials," explained Jackson, who is Tó’áhaní (Near the Water) born for Kinyaa'áanii (Towering House).

The advisory position falls under the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, part of the State Department's Office of Environmental and Scientific Affairs.

"I'm responsible for advising the bureau and the (State) department" on matters involving Native American tribes, Jackson said.

Included in that might be compliance with the Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act, the National Historic Preservation Act, protecting sacred sites, and projects that may cross tribal lands, such as the Keystone Pipeline.

"I (also) expect to be working on broad policy issues," Jackson said, "such as policy support for the (United Nations) Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People."

Jackson is no stranger to his new home, Washington, D.C. After graduating from law school in 1989, he worked at the Navajo Nation Washington Office, then the National Indian Education Association and the National Congress of American Indians before returning to Arizona, where he served in both the house of representatives and the senate and was the executive director of the Arizona Commission on Indian Affairs.

"I spent 12 years in Washington and 12 years in Arizona," Jackson said. "I seem to be on a 12-year cycle."

He said he has spent the last seven weeks settling in at State, traveling to events and making contacts. Most recently he was in Montana for a meeting of the National Association of Tribal Historic Preservation Officers, and plans to attend NCAI's meeting in Tulsa, Okla., in October.

Jackson said he was "very honored" to be appointed to his new position.

"It's my hope that I will able to strengthen the Administration's commitment to regular and meaningful consultation with tribal leaders," he said. "I hope I will be able to make sure those tribal leaders have a seat at the table."

And, while he's happy to be back in Washington, he does miss the rez.

"If I were there, I'd be riding my horse in the (Navajo Nation Fair) parade," he said last Thursday. "I'll be there in spirit."

Contact Cindy Yurth at cyurth@navajotimes.com.

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