AUGUST 5, 2009

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NSU Alumna Named Obama Senior Policy Adviser

The appointment of Kimberly Teehee to a senior post in the Obama administration was lauded as an excellent decision by national leaders and came as no surprise to those who knew her as an undergraduate student leader at Northeastern State University.

In June, President Obama announced in a taped presentation to the National Congress of Indians that the 1991 NSU graduate would become the new senior policy adviser for Native American affairs.

“Kim Teehee will be a tremendous asset to our team as we work to strengthen and build on the nation-to-nation relationship between the United States and tribal nations,” Obama said. “She is rightly recognized as an outstanding advocate for Indian Country, and she will provide a direct interface at the highest level of my administration, assuring a voice for Native Americans during policy making decisions.”

In her newly created position, Teehee will serve on the White House Domestic Policy Council, a board that provides advice to Obama and helps shape public policy.

For Dr. Don Betz, who was vice president of university relations when Teehee attended Northeastern and is now the university’s president, her appointment to one of the nation’s highest advisery boards reaffirms that persistence and dedication often bring about opportunities to make a difference.

“The appointment of Kim Teehee as a senior advisor in the Obama administration is a tribute to her hard work as an advocate for Native American issues. We are certainly proud of her as a Northeastern graduate, but also as someone who has worked tenaciously to achieve her goals,” Betz said. “During her undergraduate days, she clearly demonstrated that she would make a distinctive civic contribution. The impact she is having now at a national level inspires Northeastern students of today and her fellow alumni as well.”

Teehee was viewed as destined to succeed by her instructors, including Dr. Justin Halpern, NSU professor of political science.

“Kim was part of an exceptional group of students. She was in the first constitutional law class that I taught here, and was an outstanding student herself,” he recalled. “In fact, after she went to law school at the University of Iowa, their recruiters were inspired to come here to recruit more Northeastern students.”

A member of the Cherokee Nation, Teehee graduated from Claremore High School in 1986 and earned an associate’s degree from Rogers State College two years later. She entered Northeastern in fall 1989 and became involved in Native American policy as an intern for the Cherokee Nation. She subsequently held various positions with the Cherokee Nation, including that of law clerk in the Division of Law and Justice. Teehee graduated cum laude from NSU with her Bachelor of Arts in political science in May 1991, and earned her law degree from the University of Iowa in 1995.

While in law school, she received the Bureau of National Affairs Award and served in leadership positions within the National Native American Law Student Association and the Iowa Native American Law Student Association.

According to a White House press release, Teehee served as the Director of Native American Outreach for the Presidential Inaugural Committee for President Clinton’s second inauguration. She previously served as the Deputy Director of Native American Outreach at the Democratic National Committee. Since 1998 she has been a senior advisor to Congressman Dale Kildee, House of Representatives Native American Caucus co-chair. 

In remarks following the announcement, Kildee called Obama’s appointment “an excellent choice.”

“I have worked with Kim for over a decade, and I have always found her to be a thoughtful, dedicated, and passionate advocate for our Native American population. The president has made it clear that he is committed to strengthening the relationship between the United States and tribal nations, and I am confident that Kim will be instrumental in achieving that goal.”

As a Northeastern student, Teehee impressed fellow undergraduates with her ability to focus on group objectives. Cari Keller, also a 1991 graduate of NSU and now NSU associate professor of Criminal Justice, knew her as an active leader, and attributes her success in part to her involvement with Oklahoma Intercollegiate Legislature (OIL).

“She had a sense of direction and was very composed, someone you felt comfortable working with and you knew would pull her weight. As students, working together on projects and being involved in student government and other organizations, this was very important,” Keller said.

Teehee served in OIL leadership roles alongside Peggy Glenn-Summitt, a 1990 graduate who is now director of programs at The Senior Source in Dallas. Watching a former classmate and fellow NSU political science major become a national policy leader is a source of pride, she noted.

“These types of hands-on experiences have obviously served Kim well in her work on Native American issues in Congress and will help her increase national awareness of these issues in her role as senior policy adviser to the president,” Glenn-Summitt said. “Although this is a brand new position, Kim will bring to it the rich history of the Cherokees and other Native Americans, along with a desire to improve their quality of life.”

U.S. Congressman Dan Boren, who represents Oklahoma’s second district, said Teehee’s selection as a Native American leader at the national level is a source of pride for the state.

“I know Kim will serve all Native Americans with distinction and diligence,” Boren said. “Oklahomans can be proud to have one of our own representing the needs of the tribes and our state in the Obama administration.”