The Department of the Interior’s first-ever Secretary’s Tribal Advisory Committee (STAC) held its kick-off meeting this week. Secretary Deb Haaland announced that President Whitney Gravelle (Bay Mills Indian Community) and Chairwoman Erica Pinto (Jamul Indian Village) will serve as the new Chair and Vice Chair of the STAC, respectively.
The STAC, which was announced as part of the 2021 White House Tribal Nations Summit and launched in June 2022, will ensure Tribal leaders have direct and consistent contact and communication with current and future Department officials to facilitate robust discussions on intergovernmental responsibilities, exchange views, share information, and provide advice and recommendations regarding Departmental programs and funding that impact Tribal Nations to advance the federal trust responsibility.
“Tribes deserve a seat at the decision-making table before policies are made that impact their communities. With new leadership helping to guide the first-ever Secretary’s Tribal Advisory Committee, Tribal leaders will engage at the highest levels of the Department on the issues that matter most to their people,” said Secretary Haaland. “I look forward to continued discussion and ensuring that the Department honors and strengthens our nation-to-nation relationships with Tribes.”
During the two-day virtual meeting facilitated by Senior Advisor to the Secretary Heidi Todacheene, STAC members met with Secretary Haaland and Deputy Secretary Tommy Beaudreau, and White House Council on Native American Affairs Executive Director Morgan Rodman. They also participated in sessions with representatives from the Office of the Solicitor, and the Offices of the Assistant Secretaries of Fish and Wildlife and Parks; Indian Affairs; Insular and International Affairs; Land and Minerals Management; Policy, Management and Budget; and Water and Science. They also received updates on Tribal funding opportunities provided under the American Rescue Plan of 2021, Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, and the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, and the implementation of Indian Water Rights.
President Whitney Gravelle is a citizen of the Bay Mills Indian Community “Gnoozhekaaning” (Place of the Pike) in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. After graduating from Michigan State University College of Law in 2016 with a Juris Doctorate and a certificate from the Indigenous Law Program, President Gravelle worked for the Department of Justice with the Environment and Natural Resource Division in the Indian Resource Section, served as Chief Judge of Bay Mills Tribal Court, and again as In-House Counsel for Bay Mills Indian Community. Currently, she serves as President of the Executive Council on behalf of Bay Mills Indian Community; and sits as a commissioner on the Michigan Advisory Council on Environmental Justice and the Board of Directors of the Inter-Tribal Council of Michigan.
Erica M. Pinto serves as Chairwoman of the Jamul Indian Village (JIV) of California, one of the 13 tribes of the Kumeyaay Nation who trace their roots back 12,000 years in San Diego County. Chairwoman Pinto has been involved with the JIV Tribal Council since 1997, becoming a Council Member at the age of 21. Serving for more than 23 years on the Council, she was appointed Vice Chair of the Tribal Council in 2008. In 2015, she was the first woman elected Chairwoman of the Jamul Indian Village. Chairwoman Pinto is co-founder of the Acorn to Oaks Tribal program, which organizes activities focused on culture, youth development, health and fitness, and technology – all designed to help prevent drug and alcohol abuse, teen pregnancy, while promoting education and family togetherness. Born in El Paso, Texas, she grew up with her three brothers on the Jamul Indian Village reservation and Viejas reservation.
The STAC is composed of a primary Tribal representative from each of the 12 Bureau of Indian Affairs Regions (BIA), and one alternate member from each region. The members are appointed on a staggered term for up to two years.