New leader in charge of sharing concerns of Native American tribes

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TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) – There’s a renewed focus on hearing from native voices in the state of Kansas.

Eight years ago, Chris Howell became director at the state’s Native American Affairs Office for the first time. Earlier this week he was named to the position again.

In 2014, he left. Work for the position was split with the state gaming agency. But now he’s back, trying to fulfill the office’s purpose.

“To be sure that we’re giving it as much attention as we possibly can, and reestablishing those connections with the tribes of Kansas,” said Howell.

The last five years Howell served as the Director for Tribal Relations for BNSF Railroad, where he saw that the needs of native populations can vary greatly.

“The diversity of cultures, the diversity of organizational structures, governmental structures, decision making,” said Howell.

Now his boss is Governor Kelly, and his job is to relay what tribes in the state tell him to state agencies as well as the governor so that their concerns are considered when developing new policies.

“It’s just a matter of respecting the tribe’s sovereignty,” said Howell.

“They do have a special relationship with the federal government, we want to be sure that we are paying the appropriate amount of respect to their tribal leaders to be sure that their words get to the governor, and the governor has the most up to date information for the pressing issues of those tribes.”

Howell said tribal concerns can vary from safety, to economic development, to education funding.

He said he will spend the upcoming weeks meeting with tribal leaders to get a fresh perspective on major issues.

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