From Winnebago to Washington, tribal member takes on national role

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WINNEBAGO, Neb. (KCAU) – A local tribal member is taking what she’s accomplished in Winnebago to the White House.

Growing up a member of the Winnebago tribe, Ann Marie Bledsoe Downes said problems with housing, job opportunities, and food security were some of the issues tribal members dealt with.

Bledsoe Downes said she’s eager to take what she’s learned on the reservation to help tribes across the nation.

In Bledsoe Downes’ new role in the Biden Administration, she’ll lead the Indian Affairs Legal team at the Department of the Interior.

She’s served as Ho-Chunk, Inc.’s Executive Vice President of Community Impact and Engagement.

“We have a voice and our perspectives will be heard throughout the halls of the department of interior through Ann’s leadership,” Winnebago Tribal Chairwoman Victoria Kitcheyan said.

As a member of the tribe, Bledsoe Downes said she’s seen a fair amount of suffering in her community.

“There was a high rate of alcoholism and social problems in our community…We had extreme poverty and we still have certain individuals that are still struggling and we still battle some of those social challenges and economic challenges, but the rates were much much higher and so it was a community that was really struggling,” Bledsoe Downes said.

But she said she’s proud of the progress the tribe has made.

“We have really improved in those areas but I certainly saw that. I saw those families suffering and the impact it had on growth and progress of our community. We have pulled ourselves up out of that little by little,” Bledsoe Downes added.

She said one of her main goals is to address economic development in tribal nations and empower tribal leaders to make decisions for themselves.

“As Deputy Solicitor, I can help get the federal government out of the way and make sure tribes have what they need to create those local solutions,” Bledsoe Downes said.

Bledsoe Downes said she’s looking forward to creating more seats for tribal members at both the national and local tables.

“She is the hope made flesh of the ancestors and she’ll continue on and those teaching that we’ll all get from her that we’ll carry on so it’s pretty amazing,” Kitcheyan said.

Bledsoe Downes said making her voice heard was always a challenge and now that she’s in a position of leadership on the national level and hopes to bring more control back to the tribes and to her own home on the reservation.

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