Sandia LabNews

Laurence Brown, Sandia's tribal government relations manager


As Sandia celebrates American Indian Heritage Month this November, Labs government relations tribal liaison Laurence Brown (12125) took time to talk to the Lab News about his many roles and responsibilities.

“There are more than 550 federally recognized tribes with 41 of them in New Mexico and Arizona, and I work to stay informed of leadership changes at them as well as to seek collaboration opportunities for Sandia,” says Laurence, a manager in Sandia’s Government Relations Office. “I’m also the point of contact for the DOE Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs, which means I help ensure implementation of DOE’s American Indian and Alaskan Native Tribal Government policy.”

Over the past five years Laurence has served in the position, the chemical and materials engineer has seen Sandia’s interactions with Native people grow. Today the Labs has memorandums of understanding (MOUs) with the Navajo Nation, Jemez Pueblo in New Mexico, and the Hualapai Tribe in Arizona. Plus, he interacts with many other Indian groups on a regular basis.

Among his current activities teaming with technical programs are:

  • Working with the Pueblo of Laguna Utility Authority on its water supply needs. He will be taking representatives of the pueblo to visit the new brackish groundwater National Desalination Research Center in Alamogordo in mid-December.
  • Working with the Pueblo of Santa Ana regarding arsenic removal technologies tested in pilot programs at Jemez Pueblo and Ramah, a satellite Navajo community south of Grants.
  • Working with border security programs to develop a system of emergency communications for safety and security in tribal communities. Concerns are that terrorists could take advantage of rural communities and jurisdictional ambiguity to hide dangerous materials on Indian lands.
  • Working with the DOE/Sandia Tribal Energy Program to support a Los Alamos project that is helping develop a renewable energy project at a New Mexico pueblo.

The biggest issues that Laurence sees emerging today for the tribes surround water and energy.

Laurence assists Sandia departments either thinking of or just beginning relationships with tribes.

“I try to help the technical program people who will be working face to face with the tribal representatives understand tribal sovereignty, government, culture, and protocols,” he says.

In addition, leadership changes in many tribes every year or two. Among pueblos in New Mexico, many will not permit an individual, who may be a Sandia employee, to turn down an appointment to serve as governor or in another high position. Laurence helps an appointed employee better understand their immediate transition to government service and their return to Sandia through a leave of absence program.

Like many members of Sandia’s American Indian Outreach Committee, Laurence is involved in the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES), a national organization dedicated to increasing substantially the representation of American Indian and Alaskan Natives in engineering, science, and other related technology disciplines.

Laurence represents Sandia on the AISES Corporate Advisory Council and recruits American Indians to come work at Sandia through the society. He also helped develop a national and internal process for nominating and selecting the AISES Professional of the Year.

Laurence Brown remembers growing up with no electricity or running water

Laurence Brown (12125) understands the need for energy and water in tribal communities. He grew up on the Navajo reservation, 23 miles south of Bloomfield, N.M. There was no electricity, and with no running water, he had to haul water to the house. He herded his grandfather’s sheep and used kerosene lamps for light.

His father died when he was in the third grade, leaving his mother to raise four children by herself. A year before the death of his father, his mother got a job with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), and the family moved to a dorm on the BIA campus where Laurence had his first opportunity to live with electricity and water flowing through a tap.

He got his first job in the eighth grade working for local Navajo government. By the time he was 16, he was a welder’s helper in the oil fields.

“I knew I wasn’t going to work in the oil fields the rest of my life and asked myself, what can I do differently?” says Laurence, who speaks Diné, the Navajo language, fluently.

He realized that college was the answer and went to New Mexico State University — paying his way through odd jobs and summer internships at technical companies around the country. After obtaining his BS in chemical engineering, he worked three years at IBM in Tucson. He then came to Sandia where he participated in the Labs’ One Year On Campus program, obtaining an MS in materials engineering from Stanford University.

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