Denise Desiderio is a senior policy advisor who focuses her practice on American Indian law and policy matters.

Practice & Background

Ms. Desiderio has 15 years of experience advising on American Indian policy and regulation, working on behalf of the largest national organization for tribal governments and the U.S. government. Prior to joining Akin Gump, she served as the policy director for the National Congress of American Indians. On behalf of Indian Country, she was responsible for overseeing policy, advocating to Congress and the White House, and communicating directly with leaders of tribal governments on policy matters.

Ms. Desiderio served as deputy staff director and senior counsel for the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs from 2009 to 2014. During her time with the committee, she provided policy, legislative and strategic advice to the chairman, and supported the advancement of committee policy through bipartisan Senate outreach.

Ms. Desiderio also served as counselor in the Office of the General Counsel for the National Indian Gaming Commission from September 2005 to December 2009, where she advised the chairman and commissioners on actions taken by the Commission under the authority of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA). She was responsible for preparing and implementing the Commission’s facility license regulations, and conducted internal and external training on the regulations; legal review of tribal gaming ordinances, management contracts, facility license submissions and issues related to Indian lands; developing and implementing an Indian lands database providing information on lands where gaming facilities are located; and other legal work including review of facility environmental impact statements, responding to Freedom of Information Act appeals, and generally performing the day-to-day oversight and review mandated by the IGRA.

From January 2003 to September 2005, Ms. Desiderio served in the Department of the Interior as the special assistant to the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, where she advised on legal and policy issues impacting tribal governments. On behalf of the Assistant Secretary, she conducted meetings with tribal representatives and acted as liaison with other federal agencies, tribal governments and departmental leadership.

Ms. Desiderio is a member of the Sappony Tribe. She serves as counsel to the Tribal Council and, through her work on the Tribal Governance Project, she is engaged in revamping the Tribal Constitution, through formal meetings with the Tribal Council and the community. She also participates and assists in agenda development for the Annual Sappony Youth Camp.

Public Service

  • Deputy Staff Director/Senior Counsel, U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs
  • Counselor, Office of the General Counsel, National Indian Gaming Commission
  • Special Assistant to the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, U.S. Department of the Interior

Speaking Engagements

  • Moderator, Tribal Leaders Strategy Meeting on Priorities for 2017, NCAI Presidential Transition Meeting (with national tribal organizations, including Native American Finance Officers Association, National American Indian Housing Council, National Congress of American Indians, National Indian Education Association, National Indian Gaming Association and National Indian Health Board), January 2017
  • Speaker, “National Policy Update,” United Tribes Technical College Tribal Leader Summit, September 2017
  • Speaker, “Priorities and Strategies under the Trump Administration,” Impact Week, United South and Eastern Tribes, February 2017
  • Roundtable Participant, “Opioid Abuse and Infrastructure Priorities,” Semi-Annual Meeting, United South and Eastern Tribes, June 2017
  • Speaker, “What Does the Future Hold for Tribal Governments Under the New Administration? A 2017 Update,” The Knowledge Group Webinar, May 2017
  • Speaker, “Priorities in the Administration and Congress,” Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, Washington, D.C., March 2017
  • Panelist, “A Look Back: The Obama Administration for Tribes,” Native American Finance Officers Association, September 2016
  • Senate Testimony, “Options for Addressing the Continuing Lack of Reliable Emergency Medical Transportation for the Isolated Community of King Cove, Alaska,” U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, April 2016.