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NAVFAC Headquarters Celebrates National American Indian Heritage Month

17 November 2022

From Christopher Dunne

Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command headquarters celebrated National American Indian Heritage Month during a virtual observance Nov. 16.

Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command headquarters celebrated National American Indian Heritage Month during a virtual observance Nov. 16.

Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Jamie Pinkham, a citizen of the Nez Perce tribe, shared lessons that have helped him find meaning and purpose in his personal and professional lives. He talked about the value of community, the relationship between the natural world and the community, building bridges and finding uncommon alliances, and the need to listen honestly, and quietly.

Pinkham’s role, which includes oversight of the Army Corps of Engineers, also serves as acting assistant secretary of the Army for Civil Works. He began his career as a forestry officer in Washington state, and has spent more than two decades advocating for tribal sovereignty, self- determination and treaty rights in the Pacific Northwest. He has worked for the Army since Apr. 19, 2021.

When he was invited to take on a leadership role with the Corps of Engineers, Pinkham was skeptical. “Why me?” he asked during each stage of the interview process. “I come from a society that has a long-standing beef with the Army Corps of Engineers,” he explained. “Across Indian country, native people have had our livelihoods depleted and we’re still waiting for promises to be fulfilled as we experienced what the Corps’ mission could do to Indian tribes.”

Pinkham told the story of his first staff meeting in the Secretary of the Army’s office. “I told them about my grandfather, who served in the Army during World War I in France, and his oldest son, my uncle Sandy, was in the Army during World War II and fought on the beaches of Normandy and across Europe,” he said. “Through them, I rode the winds of change on their shoulders. They carried me through life and helped me secure our rightful place around the table. The call to service runs in the family.”

Pinkham also spoke of his responsibility as a tribal leader and what that role represents. “They say when a tribal leader walks through the door they carry over 13,000 years of their tribes’ history,” he said. “When I took my oath of office, I had those 13,000 years.” In coming to the Pentagon, he noted, “I inherited another system of history, another system of laws, another system of rules and procedures. In some cases, rules and procedures that have not always gone the tribes’ way.”

Pinkham called “discovery” his favorite part of the job, adding, “My perspective has really shifted. My respect for the Corps of Engineers has evolved. My discoveries have helped me unload the biases that were just weighing me down.”

During a trip to New Orleans following Hurricane Ian last year, he toured the damaged areas in a Blackhawk helicopter with one of the project managers. “His house is flooding, and he’s sitting there with me, explaining the damage. That kind of dedication is amazing.”

National American Indian Heritage Month is authorized by presidential proclamation each November to encourage all people to learn about the contributions and cultures of the Indigenous peoples of the North American continent.

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