“I think of myself as a public servant who has always looked for ways to give back to my community,” said Karen Diver. Whether as executive director of Duluth’s YWCA, Chairwoman of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, special assistant to the President for Native American Affairs, or in positions on a myriad of boards, she has made her mark as a devoted advocate for the causes she believes in, both locally and nationally.
Diver’s path to success was not an easy one. As a child, her family moved from Fond du Lac and moved to Cleveland, Ohio. When she became a teenaged single mother, she had to balance raising a young daughter while working to get an education. After receiving a scholarship to go to UMD, she found her life’s goals in a path of community service and eventually back to the Fond du Lac Band.
Earning her bachelor’s degree in Economics from the University of Minnesota Duluth, she went on to be a Bush Foundation Leadership Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. She received her Masters in Public Administration degree from Harvard in 2003.
After serving for 11 years as the executive director of the YWCA in Duluth, she then worked for three years as Fond du Lac’s director of special projects.
“No matter where I have served or worked, issues of social and economic justice and gender equality have always appealed to me,” she said.
In 2007, Diver became the first woman to serve as Chairwoman of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. She said, “I like to think that I am a problem solver and that, in my eight years, I helped to navigate through some difficult and challenging times.”
Diver left her Fond du Lac chairwoman position when she was offered the incredible opportunity to work in the Obama White House from November 2015 to January 2017 as special assistant to the President in Native Affairs. As a member of the Domestic Policy Council staff, she advised President Obama on issues impacting Indian Country.
On her selection, President Obama said, “Karen Diver will be a valuable part of my Administration’s mission to continue the historic progress we’ve made in building a strong Nation-to-Nation relationship with Indian Country. Her advocacy on behalf of tribal nations throughout her impressive career will serve her well in her new role, ensuring that Native Americans continue to have a voice in my Administration.”
“I was assured that we’d accomplish all that we could in the time left of the Obama Administration. As the only elected tribal leader, I think I brought a viewpoint that was helpful,” Diver said.
Diver’s important mission, to develop and implement public policy positions and initiatives for Indian Country, allowed her to bring her advocacy to the highest levels of power. She worked with several White House cabinet secretaries and assistant secretaries, as well as with the councils on domestic policy and Native American affairs during her tenure in Washington.
The Fond du Lac Band, however, is still where her heart is, where she has a network of family and friends, and where she lives today, now that she has returned to Duluth, leaving her Washington position when the new administration took office.
Shortly after her return, she taught a class on applied leadership and ethics at UMD. This past June, the College of St. Scholastica (CSS) appointed her as a faculty fellow for inclusive excellence, with a specialization in Native Studies.
According to a CSS press release, the faculty fellow in Native Studies “will be actively involved with faculty, staff and students in a variety of initiatives that emphasize student support, and that engage faculty and staff in cultural fluency and overall inclusive pedagogies.”
CSS President Colette Geary established this new position as a means to advance the college’s ambitious strategic plan for inclusive excellence. Dr. Geary said that, “engaging Diver’s broad expertise in Native Affairs signifies the college’s primacy of commitment in this inclusive excellence work to the local region and thus to tribal communities.”
“This appointment will significantly strengthen The College of St. Scholastica’s work in Native American studies as well as our commitment to inclusive excellence,” said Chris Dolan, chair of the St. Scholastica Board of Trustees. “We expect Ms. Diver’s work to provide insights and momentum that can also help in our engagement with other communities underrepresented in higher education and at St. Scholastica.”
Diver will be working to build on partnerships that improve the overall environment on campus. She is looking forward to joining the CSS community for this two year initiative. “I’m pleased to see the instructional commitment, across the whole breadth of The College of St. Scholastica, to inclusive excellence,” she said.
She added, “I have been fortunate to have had so many personal and professional opportunities throughout my life. I hope in this position that I will help CSS find even more roads to guide a whole new generation of leaders and to help them find ways to meet the demands of the future.”