Obama prepares for second tribal summit

Rob Capriccioso, Today staff
11/24/10

WASHINGTON – Before 2010 comes to a close, President Barack Obama will again meet face-to-face with Indian nation leaders in the nation’s capital.

The White House announced Nov. 15 that Obama plans to hold a second White House Tribal Nations Conference on Thursday, Dec. 16.

“As part of President Obama’s ongoing outreach to the American people, this conference will provide leaders from the 565 federally recognized tribes the opportunity to interact directly with the president and representatives from the highest levels of his administration,” according to a release from the White House. “Each federally recognized tribe will be invited to send one representative to the conference.”

Shin Inouye, a spokesman for the White House, added that the event had been being planned “for some time” and will be held at the Department of the Interior.

“It is intended to build upon the president’s commitment to strengthen the nation-to-nation relationship with Indian country,” Inouye said.

“With the announcement of the second Tribal Nations Summit today, the Obama administration reaffirmed that tribal governments are equal members in the family of American governments,” said Jefferson Keel, president of the National Congress of American Indians. “The federal trust relationship between the U.S. government and tribal nations is a non-partisan relationship. Our meetings with the executive branch have a long term focus of creating healthier and stronger tribal nations, to strengthen the entire nation.”

The first Tribal Nations Conference was held in November 2009 at Interior with Obama telling hundreds of tribal leaders that he was “absolutely committed to moving forward with you and forging a new and better future together.” He had campaigned for president under a pledge that he would hold regular meetings with tribes.

NCAI officials noted that since Obama’s first conference in November 2009, the federal government has increased the number and scope of tribal consultations, passed the Tribal Law and Order Act with bipartisan support, and made permanent the Indian Health Care Improvement Act.

Obama and agency officials made several promises to tribes during the first event, among them that the president would require federal agencies to submit plans for consultation with tribes in 90 days. Some agencies did not follow through on the president’s request, and the White House has not offered further comment on that fact.

A progress report focused on the first conference was released by the White House in June, noting that the president had fulfilled several of his promises to Indian country, including fighting for and funding better health care.

“We are moving in the right direction, but our work is not done,” said Kimberly Teehee, senior policy advisor for Native American Affairs, upon release of the report.

“To bring real change to tribal nations, we must continue to work together, on a nation-to-nation basis, in order to realize a future where Native people live long and healthy lives in safe communities, where they are able to pursue economic self-sufficiency, and where their children and grandchildren can have an equal opportunity at pursuing the American dream. We will continue to look to the wisdom and experience of tribal leaders to inform our policy agenda.”

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