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Cooper nominates first Native American woman for NC cabinet


Pamela Brewington Cashwell is nominated to be Secretary of the N.C. Department of Administration. She has been the N.C. Department of Public Safety’s Chief Deputy Secretary and Senior Policy Advisor.

Just weeks after President Joe Biden nominated the first-ever Native American woman to lead a cabinet department in the federal government, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper has done the same in North Carolina.

Cooper announced Wednesday he has picked Pamela Brewington Cashwell to be the next head of the Department of Administration, which oversees logistics, contracts and much of the other behind-the-scenes work of making state government run.

Cashwell currently works at the Department of Public Safety, where she has the titles of senior policy advisor and chief deputy secretary for professional standards, policy and planning. She has also held positions at the State Ethics Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice, including in the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division.

“Pam Cashwell’s wealth of experience has prepared her to lead the agency that state government relies on for many critical support functions,” Cooper said. “Her goal-oriented approach will help ensure efficient state government operations as well as advocacy and equity programs that benefit all North Carolinians.”

Cashwell still has to be confirmed by the state Senate, although she can begin the job in the meantime. Since the start of the year Cooper has had several top cabinet jobs open up as he begins his second term as governor, and the Senate has begun getting to confirmation hearings for some of them.

Cashwell would replace Machelle Sanders, another history-making nominee who Cooper tapped to leave the Department of Administration and take over the Department of Commerce from outgoing Secretary Tony Copeland. Sanders is the state’s first Black leader at the commerce department.

Cashwell is Lumbee and Coharie, and went to UNC-Chapel Hill for both undergrad and law school, the governor’s office said in a press release.

The Lumbee tribe has for decades been fighting with the federal government for formal recognition, but North Carolina has long recognized them as a tribe. If recognized by the federal government they would become the largest official tribe east of the Mississippi. The Coharie are a smaller tribe and likewise have been recognized by the state but not federal government.

The Lumbee tribe is largely centered around Robeson County while the Coharie are centered around nearby Sampson and Harnett counties.

While Cashwell is the first female Native American to be named a cabinet secretary in North Carolina, David McCoy was the first Native American overall.

Former Gov. Jim Hunt made McCoy, a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, the head of the N.C. Department of Transportation in 1999. He continued on in Democratic politics as former Gov. Mike Easley’s budget director from 2001-08, and then he was the state controller, the government’s chief financial officer, until 2014.

There are around 168,000 Native Americans living in North Carolina, just under 2{41490b4d0cf0dbc5ec3f65e11fff509c7d6ed2a53a838ebf7adf43f0908f07f3} of the state’s population, according to Census data.

At the federal level, Biden, who is a Democrat like Cooper, nominated New Mexico’s Deb Haaland to lead the Department of the Interior. Haaland is from the Laguna Pueblo tribe, NPR has reported, and was a member of Congress before joining the Biden administration.

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Will Doran reports on North Carolina politics, with a focus on state employees and agencies. In 2016 he started The News & Observer’s fact-checking partnership, PolitiFact NC, and before that he reported on local governments around the Triangle. Contact him at [email protected] or (919) 836-2858.