ASU Law professor appointed to Interior Department leadership role in Biden-Harris administration


When Ann Marie Bledsoe Downes attended the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University, the college’s Indian Legal Program was one of only a few of its kind that focused on enrolling and retaining Native American students, recruiting Native faculty and expanding the number of Indian law courses.

“That commitment was the key to my success,” said Bledsoe Downes, who has been named deputy solicitor for Indian Affairs in the U.S. Department of the Interior. “Now, the Indian Legal Program has over 370 alumni, and I know I will inevitably be working with many of them in this new position.”

Bledsoe Downes most recently served as an ASU Law professor of practice and director of the college’s Indian Gaming and Self-Governance Programs and was executive vice president of community impact and engagement at Ho-Chunk Inc. She previously served as the deputy assistant secretary for policy and economic development for the Interior Department’s Indian Affairs and as interim director of the Bureau of Indian Education under former President Barack Obama’s administration. She also is a prior executive director of ASU Law’s Indian Legal Program.

“It is extremely hard for me to leave ASU Law and my work in my tribal community at Ho-Chunk Inc., but I believe in public service and President Biden has prioritized several things that are also extremely important to Indian Country, including climate change, racial justice, economic recovery and, of course, COVID response,” Bledsoe Downes said. “President Biden has also made restoring the relationship with the 574 federally recognized tribes in the United States a priority for the Department of the Interior. I look forward to being part of the team working on solutions to these challenges.”

Bledsoe Downes noted the implication of that team potentially being led by Deb Haaland, Biden’s choice to be interior secretary. Haaland would be the first Native American Cabinet secretary.

“The significance of her nomination and to me personally and to all of Indian Country cannot be overstated,” Bledsoe Downes said.

Bledsoe Downes offered some important advice for ASU Law students.

“I encourage all law students to consider public service as an option and to take advantage of the courses and externships we have through our Washington, D.C., campus as a way to learn and connect with the wide range of professional opportunities available in our nation’s capital,” she said. “In fact, MLS, JD and LLM students interested in Indian law can connect directly with Indian Gaming and Tribal Self-Governance Programs Executive Director and Professor Larry Roberts, who is based out of our D.C. campus.”

Read more about Bledsoe Downes’s appointment in the Interior Department’s press release.

“With today’s announcement, President Biden is delivering on his commitment to build teams that exude talent and experience, and look like America,” Jennifer Van der Heide, incoming chief of staff, said in the release. “We look forward to working with the dedicated civil servants at the department to fulfill Interior’s missions, advance President Biden’s vision to honor our nation-to-nation relationship with tribes and uphold the trust and treaty responsibilities to them, address the climate and nature crises, and build a clean energy future that creates good-paying jobs and powers our nation. We are ready to get to work on behalf of the American people.”

media contact
media contact: 
Julie Tenney
julie.tenney@asu.edu