Former tribal leader Karen Diver will serve in a new University of Minnesota role considered rare in the world of higher education: advising the president on Native American affairs.

Diver will work with U President Joan Gabel beginning May 28 as a senior adviser. Diver was chairwoman of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa from 2007 to 2015, when she was appointed by President Barack Obama to serve as his special assistant on Native American affairs.

She accepted the new role, she said, because the university is making strides toward recognition of its land-grant status and how that affects tribal nations.

"The U was one of the institutions that benefited from the Morrill Act, and I see increased acknowledgment from President Gabel and other leadership around building relationships and being more reciprocal."

The federal government deeded Fond du Lac land to the university without the tribe's consent more than a century ago. Among other issues, the Red Lake Nation has questions about long-ago university research conducted on tribal children, and the Twin Cities and Duluth campuses were built on Native American land.

Acknowledging that past along with attracting and retaining Native American students, faculty and researchers are priorities, Diver said. So are serving the needs of tribes with research and workforce development and doing those things "respectfully."

"Those things are not impossible," she said. "They begin with small steps and commitment."

Diver's "lived experiences and professional expertise" will help the university take steps toward fulfilling its mission and toward reconciliation, Gabel said in a news release.

"Karen is an accomplished leader that has broad experience with federal and state governments and with the Tribal Nations of Minnesota," Gabel said. "As a land-grant university that was built within tribal lands, we remain deeply committed to rebuilding trust with Minnesota's Tribal Nations."

Diver most recently served as business development director for the University of Arizona Native American Advancement Initiative. She has also taught at the College of St. Scholastica and the University of Minnesota Duluth. Diver will work with Tadd Johnson, senior director of American Indian tribal relations and a member of the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa.

Jana Hollingsworth • 218-508-2450