By Philip Reed
In late June, Senior Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer Jennifer Rodgers announced that Desert Southwest and the Colorado River Storage Project Management Center partnered with the Office of the CAO to support a temporary Tribal liaison detail. Financial Manager Ethel Redhair stepped in to fill the role, and her detail ended in September.
Redhair joined WAPA in 2007, after serving in various roles in the Department of the Interior’s Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians, Field Operations. She partnered with Tribes across the Southwest and West to support management of Tribal trust accounts and serve as the point of contact between Tribes and the DOI and Bureau of Indian Affairs.
“While on this detail, Ethel will perform a baseline assessment of WAPA’s current Tribal liaison efforts and develop recommendations for moving the program forward, to ensure WAPA is providing excellent support and consultation to our Tribal customers and partners,” Rodgers said in her announcement.
Closed Circuit sat down with Redhair to discuss her experience during the detail.
Tell us about your background in Tribal relations.
Before WAPA, I processed financial accounting transactions for 12 regional offices and their respective field offices, performed portfolio management for 73 Native American Tribes and provided beneficiary trust service for Tribes and individual members regarding their trust assets. I also performed electric utility accounting for a federal utility.
Before my federal career, I was an auditor with the Navajo Nation. I performed oil, gas and coal royalty and tax audits for leasing and business activities on the reservation.
I came to WAPA in 2007 as the DSW financial manager. I have been working here for 14 years, managing DSW’s accounting, budgeting and alternative financing programs for the region.
What about this particular detail opportunity appealed to you?
I am strong believer in being a student of the business. This detail provided me with the opportunity to gain new knowledge about this program and obtain personal and professional growth at the same time.
Being a certified public accountant, I devoted my career to jobs within finance. Accepting this detail challenged me to broaden my knowledge, quickly learn a new program and gain experience from various people, organizations and situations.
What were your responsibilities as Tribal liaison?
I served as the Tribal liaison for DSW, CRSP MC and Headquarters, creating partnerships and relationships with Tribes, staff and stakeholders. I also served as WAPA’s representative on the Department of Energy’s Tribal energy initiatives.
Additionally, I had the opportunity to work with all of the regions in the newly created Government-to-Government Community of Practice group, where much information and knowledge is shared among the members and competence is gained.
What can you tell us about the importance of WAPA’s Tribal customers?
Within WAPA’s footprint, there are many Tribes with whom we do business. Providing excellent customer service is important, and we ensure direct connection between our customers and our business. This customer service represents our brand, image, mission and core values. After all, our customers expect high-quality service.
In order to be successful, we need to provide excellent service to our Native American communities. This includes regular outreach as well as successful consultations on WAPA’s activities, including Operations and Maintenance, capital projects and applicant interconnects.
We also need to promote successful partnerships on renewable initiatives on Indian lands and coordinate Tribes’ technical service resources with our customers.
Is there anything in particular that you were proud to accomplish in this role?
In September, WAPA hosted a series of listening sessions with the Native American Indian Tribes within WAPA’s territory, with each region holding meetings. We wanted to hear what our Tribal customers have to tell us regarding our relationships, coordination concerns and what WAPA can do better to serve the Tribal communities.
The listening sessions are shared with the DOE and the feedback will be used to advise the department’s action plan, develop Tribal consultation policy and improve Nation-to-Nation relationships.
Do you have anything to add in conclusion?
Give yourself a chance to try something new.
This detail has given me an opportunity and a challenge to learn something totally new. I jumped in with both feet and connected with people that I normally did not work with before. I appreciate their willingness to share their knowledge and their perspectives with me.
A lot of times, I was in unfamiliar territory and was challenged with solving the tasks at hand. My takeaway is that I expanded my business knowledge and gained professional growth.
Note: Reed is a public affairs specialist.