Former Navajo presidential candidate looks forward to new challenge at federal level

Noel Lyn Smith The Daily Times
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — Former Navajo Nation presidential candidate Chris Deschene looks forward to his new role at the federal level as director of the Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs.

The office, which was established in 2005, is part of the U.S. Department of Energy. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz announced the appointment this week.

"I was honored when the secretary asked that I serve in this capacity," Deschene said in a telephone interview this week from his office in Washington, D.C.

He said the skills he will bring to the position will include knowledge about the relationship between tribes and the federal government.

As director, Deschene said he will promote tribal energy development, efficiency and use. He will also strengthen tribal energy and economic infrastructure relating to natural resource developments and work to bring electrical service to tribal lands.

Part of the office's purpose is to provide the 566 federally recognized tribes with financial and technical assistance, and encourage the development of energy infrastructure development in Indian Country.

Deschene has more than 20 years of management and policy experience, expertise in business and energy development, natural resources and environmental policies, and experience in federal Indian law and government affairs, according to a department press release.

Deschene, who is a registered member of the LeChee Chapter in Arizona, earned a law degree from Arizona State University in Tempe, Ariz. Concurrent to his law degree, he earned a master's degree in mechanical engineering with an emphasis in renewable and alternative energy development.

Prior to the appointment, he started and served as partner with the Law Office of Schaff & Clark Deschene LLC and was an attorney with Snell and Wilmer in Phoenix.

Through Deschene's practice, he helped tribal communities — some located in the Pacific Northwest, the Great Plains and Southern California — develop infrastructure and economies using natural and energy resources.

In addition to continuing the office's focus of developing energy projects in Indian Country, Deschene said he looks forward to promoting a list of White House initiatives.

"Tribes have tremendous resources that are untapped," he said, adding that officials and businesses are recognizing the contributions tribes can make, and he hopes to increase that connection.

Other connections Deschene is hoping to create are with federal entities such as the U.S. Department of the Interior, in hopes it will bring services or open doors that tribes can capitalize on.

"I stepped onto a fast-moving train," Deschene said, adding he will be working with Moniz to arrange a tribal energy summit in September.

Among those who heard about Deschene's appointment was Anthony Allison, a member of the Navajo Voter's Coalition Inc.

"It is a very well-deserved position," Allison said, adding that Deschene's service was the tribe's loss and the federal government's gain.

He said it will be interesting to see how Deschene manages his new role.

Wahleah Johns, vice chair of the Navajo Green Economy Commission, which was established by the Navajo Nation Council in July 2009, will also be watching Deschene's progress.

While Johns said it is exciting to see a Navajo leading the office, she also said she looks forward to seeing how Deschene approaches renewable energy projects, including solar and wind, on Indian Country and his work to promote those types of initiatives set by the Obama administration.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 and Follow her @nsmithdt on Twitter.