Obama says he supports strong and stable tribal governments built through self-determination.

President Obama Answers Questions From Indian Country Today Media Network in Unprecedented Exchange

Rob Capriccioso

Claiming that his record shows he is more committed than his opponent in the upcoming presidential election to serving Indian country, President Barack Obama has answered questions about some of the major issues facing American Indian citizens and tribes today.

“[With me] as president, you have a voice in the White House,” he tells Indian Country Today Media Network. “We’re moving forward, but there’s more work to do. But we are seeing a turning point in the relationship between our nations, and ultimately our relationship is not just a matter of legislation or a matter of policy. It’s a matter of whether we’re going to live up to our basic values.”

Not only is this the first time President Obama has done a Q&A with the American Indian press, it is believed to be the first time a sitting president of the United States has conducted such an interview with Native media. It’s a first that aligns with the image Obama has worked hard to cultivate in Indian country. Adopted as “One Who Helps People Throughout the Land” when he was campaigning for president on the Crow Nation reservation in May 2008, he has since hired several Native American staffers, held three annual tribal summits and taken administrative action on multiple long-standing trust and water settlements. He has also supported and signed pro-tribal legislation, including the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, the Tribal Law and Order Act and the Helping Expedite and Advance Responsible Tribal Homeownership [HEARTH] Act. His record has pleased many tribal leaders; some hail him as one of the best presidents for Indian country in recent history.

This landmark Q&A—submitted and answered in written form—is the first installment in a series of interviews ICTMN will be conducting this election season with federal, state, local and tribal officials.

Why should American Indians vote for you this time around? What has been your proudest accomplishment to date on behalf of American Indians?

[With me] as president, you have a voice in the White House. Since the earliest days of my administration, we’ve been working hand in hand between our nations to keep that promise through a comprehensive strategy to help meet the challenges facing Native American communities.

That starts with improving the economy and creating jobs. One of the keys to unlocking economic growth on reservations is investments in roads and high-speed rail and high-speed Internet and the infrastructure that will better connect your communities to the broader economy and draw capital and create jobs on tribal lands. That’s why my administration has boosted infrastructure investments through the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Indian Reservation Roads Program, and we’ve offered loans to reach reservations with broadband.

We’ve also made critical investments into pressing needs like renovating schools and devoting resources to job training, especially for young people in Indian country. And we’re working with you to restore tribal homelands in order to help you develop your economies. When it comes to creating jobs, closing the opportunity gap, and leaving something better for our future generations, few areas hold as much promise as clean energy. Native American lands hold great potential wind and solar energy resources, and the potential for solar energy is even higher. My administration will continue to invest in our clean energy future to strengthen our economies and our energy security.

But if we’re going to bring real and lasting change for our nations one thing we need to do is make health care more accessible and affordable. We know that as long as Native Americans die of illnesses like tuberculosis, alcoholism, diabetes, pneumonia and influenza at far higher rates than the rest of the population, then we’re going to have to do more to address disparities in health care delivery. The health reform law that I signed, now called Obamacare—which I like because I do care—included the permanent reauthorization of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act (IHCIA), which authorizes new programs and services within the Indian Health Service, helping more folks get the care they need.

So we’re making progress. We’re moving forward, but there’s more work to do. But we are seeing a turning point in the relationship between our nations, and ultimately our relationship is not just a matter of legislation or a matter of policy. It’s a matter of whether we’re going to live up to our basic values. It’s a matter of upholding an ideal that has always defined who we are as Americans: e pluribus unum—out of many, one. And I’m confident that if we continue to work together, that we will live up to this simple motto and we will achieve a brighter future for the First Americans and for all Americans.

What does tribal sovereignty mean to you? What is the best way to resolve conflicts between tribal nations and the federal and state governments?

I believe that treaty commitments are paramount law, and I will strive to fulfill these commitments as president. This means providing quality, affordable health care and improving education quality on reservations across America.

As promised, my administration has hosted annual meetings with Native American leaders to ensure that tribal nations have an opportunity to work directly with cabinet members and agency officials to craft a policy agenda together. I also issued an executive order instructing agencies to develop plans for consultation and coordination with tribal governments, which has resulted in historic levels of engagement. Additionally, I have hired Native American personnel at high levels throughout the administration to advise on policies that directly impact tribal communities. Through meaningful dialogue, together we can move toward partnerships in addressing the needs of Indian country.


Do you believe in a clean Carcieri fix? If so, what do you think it would look like? If not, why not?

The Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Carcieri v. Salazar held that under the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 the federal government cannot take land into trust for Indian tribes not under federal jurisdiction in 1934. To address the United States Supreme Court’s decision, for the past two years my budgets have included language reaffirming the Secretary of the Interior’s authority to take land into trust for all federally recognized Indian tribes.

How have you tried to balance federal budgetary spending with the trust responsibility and obligations to tribes called for in the Constitution and treaties? How do you feel about the Bureau of Indian Affairs? Indian Health Service? Do you see a need for reform?

I believe that strong and stable tribal governments built through self-determination are the key to overcoming great challenges. As such, my administration is engaged in a wide range of activities to support tribal self-determination, and my proposed budget increases funding to compensate tribes for the work they perform in managing federal programs under self-determination contracts and self-governance compacts.

Combating crime in Indian country requires cooperative efforts by federal, state and tribal entities. In July 2010, I signed the Tribal Law and Order Act, which addresses many of the public safety challenges that confront tribal communities, including increased funding to operate newly constructed detention centers. My budget also proposes increased funds for tribal courts and additional law enforcement officers, coordinates community policing programs to reduce crime and protects natural resources in Indian country.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Indian Health Service are critical to removing obstacles to build and promote tribal self-determination and strong and stable government institutions, while promoting job creation and access to health care. Through Indian affairs programs, tribes can improve the quality of life for their members, and support education, job training and employment opportunities. My proposed budget maintains this commitment by providing $2.5 billion in total budget authority for such services. To build on our commitment to increase access to health care for American Indians and Alaska Natives, my budget provides $4.4 billion for the Indian Health Service, in order to make key investments in clinical services and staffing, tribally operated health programs and health facilities construction.

Do you understand tribal and Indian concerns relating to the Keystone XL pipeline?

My administration is conducting a thorough and rigorous review of the Keystone pipeline. We are weighing many critical issues involved in the decision, including impacts to public health, potential threats to water supplies, climate change and impacts on cultural and natural resources, especially across large areas of Indian country and water sources along the pipeline’s route. These issues, along with American energy security and economic factors, have been and will continue to be closely considered in the administration’s future decisions. On the other hand, my opponent, Governor Romney, has said he would approve the pipeline on day one of his term, regardless of concerns like impacts on communities and the environment.


Do you see a need for more federal economic development opportunities for tribes and reservations to resolve the problem of poverty on reservations?

While we have made progress in restarting job creation—with 4.6 million private sector jobs created over the past 30 months [as of press time]—I believe much more needs to be done to put Americans back to work. While the current economic crisis has challenged all Americans, we know this to be especially true for Indian country, where some reservations face unemployment rates of up to 80 percent. Though the economic challenges of Indian country are significant, I am committed to building strong, prosperous Native American economies.

My proposed budget includes funding and proposals to support business growth and access to credit in Indian country, to continue to expand job creation opportunities, to give all children in Indian country a fair shot at success by improving K-12 education and expanding access to college, and to assist with winter fuel costs. I have also proposed a 10 percent increase from 2012 enacted levels in grants to Indian tribes, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians and tribal nonprofit organizations that provide employment and training services to unemployed and low-income Native Americans, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians. The additional funding in the coming year will allow grantees to serve more participants and expand their emphasis on helping individuals advance along career pathways.

Why do you think there is/was so much resistance to the Violence Against Women Act? Do you think tribal courts should have authority to make judgments against nontribal citizens who commit crimes on tribal territory as a means to lower crime rates?

Native American women suffer from domestic violence at some of the highest rates in the United States. And we know that there are countless more victims of domestic violence and sexual assault whose stories may never be told. Some of the abusers of Native American women go unpunished because tribes cannot prosecute non-Indians, even if the offender lives on the reservation and is married to a tribal member.

Romney refuses to stand up to the Republicans in Congress who blocked these crucial improvements to the Violence Against Women Act. I believe that Congress should close the jurisdictional gap in the criminal justice system and provide tribes with the authority to hold offenders accountable for their crimes against Native American women, regardless of the perpetrator’s race. The reauthorization addresses these issues that made it difficult to prosecute abusers on tribal lands in some cases. Tribal courts’ jurisdiction over domestic violence will be recognized, and tribal courts authority to enforce protection orders will be clarified. Congress should act on this today. VAWA provides helpful resources to the tribes, but without addressing the jurisdictional gap, those tools only go so far.

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jaydokie's picture
Submitted by jaydokie on
Excellent article. President Obama has done more for Indian Country than any other past administration. Great strides and many more to be made if he is successful in his reelection bid. Tribal and individual Indians have been treated and dealt with as the sovereign nations we are.

willie's picture
Submitted by willie on
With 229 federally recognized tribes, approximately 40% nationally, located in Alaska and Native lands owned by ANCSA corporations, it is critical the White House play a critical role in fixing the "Venetie" Supreme Court case to bring Indian Country status back to Alaska's tribes so that we can be in line with the rest of Indian Country nationally in our efforts to exercise our inherent right of self-government.

tmsyr11's picture
Submitted by tmsyr11 on
THere would lots of wonderful things to accomplish if there were federal dollars to provide to Indian Tribes. As it stands now, the United States and it's Federal Government has a debt according as follows: U.S. NATIONAL DEBT CLOCK The Outstanding Public Debt as of 05 Oct 2012 at 01:27:32 AM GMT i The estimated population of the United States is 313,626,037 so each citizen's share of this debt is $51,519.26. The National Debt has continued to increase an average of $3.90 billion per day since September 28, 2007! Where/How in the $3.9 BILLION are even 'some' of these fashioned-tailored promises going to come from? The federal dollars have to come from some-where if the Indian Tribes ARE NOT ALREADY GIVING federal dollars back! According to another news story (just out today), "The Navajo Nation has returned about $63.1 million in federal funding to the federal government since 2008". If American Indian Tribes are to stand proudly and cherish 'sovereignty', then tribal members have to hold their elected tribal representatives accountable. Did you look at the photo-op and see who is standing with Obama? He has some-what of a history which is only being re-told in countless tribal governments. If some who identify with indian tribes, honor 'sovereignty', then why are YOU letting politicians as Elizabeth Warren dictate to you the definition of American Indian. The federal money has to come from some-where, and if this President can't provide completed responses based on factual truths with out the use of tele-promptors or questions given beforehand, then the only other option is Mr. Romney! Try doing a GOOGLE advanced search of "Barack Obama and American Indians" "2008 - 2010"and seeing what comes back. Some instances and events, but lots of stories/articles of those same instances. Barack Obama can't provide to you what YOUR indian government isn't getting done.

softbreeze's picture
Submitted by softbreeze on
President Obama has and continues to demonstrate genuine respect for the Original Peoples of Turtle Island. He seems to really get it, that we are Human Beings, worthy of the dignities, rights, and freedoms of all Human Beings. He understands the tragic and devastating history between our Ancestors and the European immigrants. Given that Manifest Destiny is a part of Latter Day Saint Church doctrine, I don't believe we would receive the same support or understanding from Candidate Romney. I believe that President Obama's support of American Indians is a strong indicator of not only what kind of President he is, but also waht kind of man he is. A president could ignore the least visible demographic in America today, and probably suffer little in regards to their political career. The fact that President Obama has embraced American Indians, out of his belief in doing what's right, demonstrates in a larger sense, where his heart is for all Americans. He cares about doing what's right for people and families today. He puts that before everything else. I believe Candidate Romney would put his ideologies before the well-being of the most vulnerable of Americans. I think his 47% comment is a strong indication of this. President Obama conducted himself like a gentleman during the debate this past Thursday. He addressed Americans like we are intelligent, and backed up his positions with detail, and explanations. He did not act like the debate was a verbal boxing match. He showed respect for Candidate Romney. I think this also illustrates his character as a man who demonstrates respect for others. Thank you, President Obama, for all you do for Indian Country, and for remembering and caring about every American.

zelbe1's picture
Submitted by zelbe1 on
The goal here isn't to GET anything from a president whether its Obama or Romney. The goal here is to first recognize tribal peoples as the first Americans, something most Americans are clueless or intentionally perpetuate ignorance of, then do not stand in the way of tribes being economically, socially and politically included on issues that involve Indian country. Conservatives range from outright bigoted to patronizing foes that deny sovereign status and keep indian nations from prospering, yet, want their hands in every dime a tribe prospers. Obama at least courts and addresses native peoples. When will Romney or Republicans come to Indian country or the reservations to see first hand the people whom sacrificed lands and their "way of life" so he could become a CEO and live the American dream? The Obamas have visited natives.

madalynparrish's picture
Submitted by madalynparrish on
Obama actually treats everyone with dignity and respect. Romney seems to stick his nose up at Native Americans, gays, Mexican immigrants and anyone who doesn't seem to fit in his 'class'. He really disgusts me and I don't see how any minority could want to vote for him or his conservative brotherhood, especially if you're Indian or gay, and yet I've seen it. I honestly don't know what's wrong with such people.