A South Dakota Native American woman now heads up an office under the U.S. Department of Human Services in Washington D.C. Jeannie Hovland is commissioner of the Administration for Native Americans. She is an enrolled member of the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe.
Jeannie Hovland grew up in the Black Hills town of Belle Fourche. Her father was Norwegian; her mother, Native American.
Kennecke: Did you ever feel like an outsider because you didn’t grow up in the tribe or on the reservation?
Hovland: I felt like an outsider in both worlds, both on the reservation and off the reservation.
However, Hovland was able to assimilate to her Native culture through frequent trips to her mother’s home in Flandreau.
“Where do I fit in in the non-native community? Where do I fit in the native community when I’m not a fluent speaker, when I’m learning my culture, I’m learning my traditions. I learned to accept who I am and no matter any age I can learn, learn more about who I am as a Lakota/Dakota woman and I’m very proud of that,” Hovland said.
For 13 years, Hovland worked for Senator John Thune, serving as a liaison between Thune’s office and Native American tribes
Kennecke: What would you say was your biggest accomplishment during that time for those efforts?
Hovland: I would say it would be the Tribal Law and Order Act. What the senator supported really came from our tribal community members, our tribal leadership, as well as the Code Talkers Recognition Act, recognizing and fighting for our code talkers and it was so past due.
The Code Talkers Recognition Act was signed by President George W. Bush on October 15, 2008. It recognized the service of all Native American Code Talkers during the two world wars.
Now as commissioner of the Administration for Native Americans under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Hovland has taken on a new mission as a member of the president’s task force for missing and murdered indigenous women.
“Our tribes said, ‘we want to have justice, We want to have these cases resolved, but we also want the Department of Health and Human Services to help our people to not go missing; to help with prevention–to help our communities to heal when we have a loved one who has gone missing or has been murdered,'” Hovland said.
Hovland recently penned an op-ed for Fortune Magazine titled: “Missing and murdered Native Americans: How to combat the worsening crisis in the U.S.”
“It has become obvious that it’s a dangerous time for our people. It is especially true for our young people and our young adults who face many safety threats that were unheard of even 15 or 20 years ago,” Hovland quotes Rosebud Sioux Tribal President Rodney Bordeaux before the U.S. Natural Resources subcommittee.
Hovland testified before a U.S. Congress Natural Resources Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples of the United State’s review of the Trump administration’s approach to the MMIW crisis.
Hovland told the committee that homicide is the third leading cause of death for young Native American women.
“Our efforts include a whole family approach that connects families to services that support the physical, mental and spiritual well being of individuals and families,” Hovland said.
Hovland says there is a need for better data and tracking of these cases, as well as more education and prevention efforts.
“Do you know what sex trafficking is? Do you know what it looks like? What do you do if it’s happening to you or somebody you know? Have age-appropriate, have it culturally appropriate. Having these tough conversations–to feel like you’re equipped to be able to have these tough conversations and respond, has been one of the biggest barriers,” Hovland said .
Hovland says many complex social issues on reservations must be addressed in order for communities to move toward solutions.
“This is not just a Native American issue. We need all Americans to be informed this is a crisis. We need their help. We want this to be a united front, in order to really move the needle in resolving cases, preventing this from happening–many of our missing and murdered native relatives are in urban settings–on reservations also–but often in our urban settings.”Jeannie Hovland, Commissioner for the Administration of Native Americans
Hovland says her most important work on curbing the number of Native people who go missing or are killed, isn’t done behind a desk in Washington D.C., but through visits back home to South Dakota to work with the tribal communities themselves.
The Administration for Native Americans says it promotes self-sufficiency for Native Americans by providing grant funding for community-based projects, as well as training and technical assistance. Prior to heading up the ANA, Hovland served as senior advisor to the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs at the Department of the Interior.