In our latest installment of board member and staff profiles, get to know one of our newest board members, Lillian Sparks Robinson. Lillian has deep experience in Indian Country, and was Commissioner of the Administration for Native Americans under President Obama. She recently entered the private sector for the first time when she founded Wopila Consulting, LLC.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your work in Indian Country.
I am a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe and a new business owner (Owner and President of Wopila Consulting, LLC) and previously worked in the non-profit sector (Executive Director, National Indian Education Association, NIEA) and the federal government (Commissioner of Administration for Native Americans, ANA). I have extensive and expert legislative, policy, and advocacy experience working in our Nation’s Capital for nearly twenty years and a strong background in non- profit governance and organizational leadership and planning.
In 2010, I was appointed by President Obama, and confirmed by the U.S. Senate, to serve as the Commissioner for the Administration for Native Americans. I served in this role for the remainder of the administration and worked on programs and policy impacting American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities, including programs that support the expansion of the American Indian private sector and the increase of American Indian owned enterprises and businesses.
Prior to my service at ANA, I served as the Executive Director of the National Indian Education Association (NIEA), where I worked extensively on education policy and appropriations impacting American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian students. I began my professional career right out of law school (Georgetown University Law Center) at the National Congress of American Indians, where I worked on legislative priorities related to social service and health programs and human rights issues for Indigenous peoples. Currently, I am the owner and CEO of Wopila Consulting, LLC, which provides a wide range of specialized consulting, policy, and strategic development services to federal, state, and tribal government clients. I live in Baltimore, MD, which is my hometown, with my husband, Corey Robinson and our 4-year-old son, Connor.
What made you interested in joining the National Center’s Board of Directors?
I believe the in mission and the values of the organization and have spent my entire career promoting and supporting opportunities in Indian Country that focus on education and economic development. As a frequent presenter at the Reservation Economic Summits (RES) and a past 40 under 40 award recipient, I have seen firsthand the impact the organization has had on the membership and participants via training, technical assistance, and networking. As a result, I became interested in contributing to the great work of the National Center while assisting the organization in strengthening their existing programs, legislative and policy agenda, membership services, and fundraising efforts.
Now that I have entered the private sector for the first time in my career, I still desire to contribute to Indian Country’s national agenda through the development of policies and initiatives that support Tribal and American Indian individual business development and economies. The guiding principles of the National Center are strongly aligned with my personal values that recognizes and respects our inherent cultural beliefs as a source of strength and guidance. Wopila Consulting, LLC’s guiding principles are reflective of the four Lakota virtues- Wisdom, Bravery, Generosity, and Fortitude. “Wopila” is Lakota for “giving thanks” and is also used to describe a ceremony of giving back to show appreciation. Serving on the Board of Directors provides an opportunity for me to demonstrate the act of “wopila”, giving back to Indian Country, by contributing my expertise and ideas for thriving reservation economies, successful Tribal and Native owned businesses, and effective training and technical assistance services.
What have you enjoyed about your experience on the Board?
For the short time I have been on the Board, I have really enjoyed getting to know the other Board members, as well as learning about all of the hard work the President and CEO, Chris James, and the National Center’s staff does in-between each RES event. Most people recognize the National Center as an organization that puts on a great conference each year, but the programming and advocacy that takes place in the months between each event is really the heart of the organization. The staff of NCAIED work yearlong to provide training opportunities for Indian Country enterprises and entrepreneurs, as well as promote Indian Country economic development opportunities nationally and globally. I am proud to be part of such a dynamic team.
What’s the one piece of advice or words of encouragement you would give to a young professional who wants to get more involved in his or her tribe, or the broader American Indian and Alaska Native community?
My piece of advice for any young person wanting to make a difference in his or her community is to always do your research, identify mentors or role models, and to seek out opportunities where you are able to learn, grow, and gain valuable experience. With regards to becoming more involved in your tribe or broader Native community, volunteer as much as possible. Through volunteering at events, conferences, or tribal offices, you will come in contact with all types of community people who will share with you their stories, life lessons, and hopes for the next generations. By listening to community members, you will learn what is working, what needs to be changed, and what the priorities are of the people.
When you’re not working or attending a National Center event, where can we find you? What are your hobbies?
When I am not working, I am with my family traveling to pow-wows or the beach! I used to be a competitive fancy shawl dancer but these days I dance traditional and for fun. My son loves to sing and dance at pow-wows so this summer I made sure we went to more pow wows than the previous year and next year we will likely go to more than this year. But we also love the beach and try to hit the shore anytime we find ourselves with a free weekend. Both my husband and I are active in community service organizations so we attend a lot of fundraisers and programs in Baltimore and Washington, DC. There is not a lot of downtime in our household, but if we are creating memories or giving back to the community, we are ok with being exhausted.