Donald “Louie” Clayborn, the state’s new Indian affairs coordinator, says déjà vu doesn’t bother him. In fact, he’s embracing it.
In 1982, then-Gov. Ted Schwinden, a Democrat, tapped Clayborn for the same job. But when Republican Gov. Stan Stephens took office in 1989, he pushed him out and hired someone else for the position. Now Marc Racicot, another Republican, has hired Clayborn back.
“I’m not going to look at this as a lame-duck deal,” Clayborn says of his appointment by Racicot, who will be forced out of office by term limits at the end of the year. “The tribes have given me their support, and I’m going to honor them by working my ass off the next nine months,” and longer if the state’s next governor chooses to keep him.
The coordinator’s job primarily entails being a liaison between the state and Montana tribes in issues that range from economic development to environmental protection. A primary responsibility is monitoring and promoting Indian-related legislation and working with various departments and programs to ensure Indian needs are being met.
Clayborn, now executive director of the Montana United Indian Association in Helena, was chosen from a field of six candidates. He replaces Wyman McDonald, who retired in December. Clayborn will start in late February or early March.
“I’m flattered and I’m honored,” he says.
Clayborn, who has a bachelor of arts degree in education from the University of Montana and has completed coursework toward a master’s degree in public administration, says he wants to find more ways state government can work with the state’s Indian tribes.
“The state could really involve Native Americans much more than they do,” he contends. “It’s not a brown-white issue. It’s mostly about jurisdiction and things like that. It becomes a feud of words over business. I just really feel some of these petty issues could be resolved and not blow up so big if we got more Native Americans in state government.”
Clayborn, who grew up on the Fort Belknap Reservation, among other locales, has managed the Indian association—which provides a variety of education, health and employment-related programs for non-enrolled and urban Indians—since 1998. Before that he served four years as the Montana-area director for the Christian Children’s Fund. He’s also worked as a college instructor and education consultant around the state.
One of the top accomplishments during his last tenure in the coordinator’s job, he says, was helping to get the state’s cooperative agreements act passed in the Legislature. The act has since resulted in more than 500 agreements being signed between the state and various tribes.
“All of those things have come full circle,” he says of projects he worked on in state government more than a decade ago. “Now we can move forward with the way we want to go.