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WASHINGTON — Surrounded by relatives and friends, including Navajo Nation President Buu Nygren, Arlando Teller, a tribal citizen of the Navajo Nation, was formally sworn-in as the U.S. Department of Transportation’s first-ever assistant secretary for Tribal Affairs on Monday afternoon. 

Serving in the position since early April, Teller was sworn in by Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg in a ceremony in the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) headquarters in Washington, D.C.

The new position was created as part of the enactment of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) that provides $550 billion for new federal investment in roads, bridges, mass transit, water infrastructure and broadband. 

Buttigieg spoke about the complexities that exist in nation-to-nation dealings with the federal government. He said Teller has already made it easier for tribes to communicate with the DOT. 

“I want to thank you for sharing him with us. I know public service comes with demands and comes with a cost and I know you are with us in his journey as he helps us,” Buttigieg said as he recognized Teller’s relatives and friends in the audience. 

Teller is a former Arizona state representative, who was selected to be deputy assistant secretary for tribal affairs at the DOT in February 2021. Since taking the position, he has been working on different provisions to streamline the Right-of-Way clearance process, specifically working with other federal agencies to improve the federal clearance process to benefit tribal communities so they may began moving forward with several road transportation infrastructure projects.

Prior to administering the oath of office, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg shared a few words of Teller’s accomplishments in his role as Deputy Assistant Secretary and emphasized the need to have tribal representation to address many of the unique needs of Indian Country.

Teller dedicated his success and commitment to his late mother who passed three years ago after he was offered a position within the Biden Administration. 

“I appreciate her guidance for this opportunity. Our elders like her, and without the advocacy from tribal leaders across Indian country, this position, this opportunity wouldn't have happened,” Teller said. 

Teller brings with him a lengthy resume in aviation/aerospace as well as transportation planning for both the state of California and the Navajo Nation. 

Transportation Assistant Secretary - Indian Affairs Arlando Teller and Navajo Nation President Buu Nygren (Photo/Navajo Nation)


“I think that was the best choice for someone that has compassion, heart and commitment and knows what they're doing,” President Nygren said.

“I think that's critical. I know that it's good for all Indian Country that they selected somebody who has a passion for roads. We wish Assistant Secretary Teller well in his new role and look forward to our continued collaboration with the U.S. Department of Transportation.”

Across the federal government only two departments have the position of assistant secretary for Indian affiars. The Department of the Interior, which houses the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE), and the DOT.

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Levi Rickert
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Levi "Calm Before the Storm" Rickert (Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation) is the founder, publisher and editor of Native News Online. Rickert was awarded Best Column 2021 Native Media Award for the print/online category by the Native American Journalists Association. He serves on the advisory board of the Multicultural Media Correspondents Association. He can be reached at [email protected].