Former Interior boss Ken Salazar visits Ignacio

Former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar visits with members of the Southern Ute Indian Tribal Council in the Leonard C. Burch Building's Chief Ignacio Room on Thursday, Aug. 15.
Former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar (right) greets longtime friend and Southern Ute Indian Tribal Councilman Howard D. Richards Sr.
Ace Stryker | Southern Ute Drum
Ace Stryker | Southern Ute Drum

It was not former U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar’s first visit to Ignacio — far from it — but his first as former secretary of the interior, a post he resigned in April.

Salazar, also a former Colorado attorney general, reintroduced himself to the Southern Ute Indian Tribal Council on Thursday, Aug. 15 as a partner in the Washington, D.C.-based law firm Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP. Joining him was Tom Strickland, another partner and Salazar’s former chief of staff and assistant secretary for fish and wildlife and parks.

“For me, coming here is much like coming home, because we’ve worked on so many issues over so many years,” Salazar said, citing the Animas-La Plata Project as one on which he spent time. “It’s, for me, been a very joyful journey.”

Salazar said he and Strickland are tasked with helping open a Denver office of the law firm, which will join 14 others around the world including those in Boston, New York City, Los Angeles, London, Berlin and Beijing.

“One of the things that we hope we are able to do is to have a continued role in the representation of Indian tribes,” he said. “We would be honored if we were given an opportunity as a law firm to work with all of you.”

Much of his time in Washington was devoted to Native American issues, Salazar said. In particular, he worked to host four White House Tribal Nations conferences and pushed U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs directors to process fee-to-trust applications more quickly, he said.

“I’m proud of the work we did in all those different chapters,” he said. “We were able to make huge process on much of that agenda.”

Strickland, a former U.S. attorney for Colorado, said the progress of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe over the past 30 years has been “amazing.”

“I’ve seen the development and the success and the growth and the prosperity that was hard-earned,” he said.

Councilman Howard D. Richards Sr. said Salazar’s relationship with the tribe is genuine and has decades-old roots.

“It means a lot to me, because we grew up together, so to speak, on hard issues,” he said.

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