FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Interior Secretary Gale Norton said Thursday that she would visit Alaska within the next two months and would visit the state ''on a fairly regular basis'' thereafter, she said.
Norton also said it would be several months before she would appoint an assistant secretary of Indian affairs.
Norton made her comment after a speech before the National Congress of American Indians' executive council Thursday.
Norton oversees the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the several agencies that manage federal land in Alaska.
Joe Williams of Saxman, representing the Alaska Intertribal Council, also asked Norton when she would appoint an Indian affairs secretary.
Norton said she has received numerous applications from highly qualified candidates. However, she said, the selection process was still in the ''fairly early stages.''
Once a candidate is selected, he or she must go through a FBI background check and Senate hearings, she said. So even after the decision is made, it could be a few months before the person could start serving, she said.
Ed Thomas, president of the Tlingit-Haida Central Council in Southeast Alaska, has applied for the job. He was in the audience and introduced himself to Norton after her speech.
Thomas' chances could be hurt by the fact that Native issues differ so greatly in Alaska compared with other states, given the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. At the same time, though, rivalries between Lower 48 tribes could prompt the administration to look north.
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