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The top official at the Bureau of Indian Affairs has resigned suddenly after serving just six months, and a Billings official will take over, the agency said Friday.

The BIA confirmed to The Gazette on Friday that Bryan Rice, the agency's director, resigned on April 24.

BIA Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs John Tahsuda informed agency employees by email Thursday, which BIA spokeswoman Nedra Darling released Friday.

Darling did not give a reason for Rice's departure. 

Darryl LaCounte, the regional BIA director based in Billings, will take over as acting BIA director.

"He is an experienced leader with vast organizational knowledge to maintain a smooth transition for our BIA employees and the tribal nations we serve," Darling said of LaCounte in an emailed statement.

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LaCounte started with the BIA in 1988 as an oil and gas specialist. He moved up through several positions in the Billings office and in 2014 became the Rocky Mountain regional director.

The exiting Rice, who is a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, took over as director six months ago. He was previously a director of forest management for the U.S. Forest Service and a deputy director for the BIA's Office of Trust Services.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said at the time of Rice's appointment that Rice's management experience made him the right person for the job.

“I have full confidence that Bryan is the right person at this pivotal time as we work to renew the department’s focus on self-determination and self-governance, give power back to the tribes, and provide real meaning to the concept of tribal sovereignty,” Zinke said in a press release from October.

The Interior Department oversees the BIA. It's not known how long LaCounte will serve, but his appointment was described as being part of a transition period.

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