March of Progress: White House Tribal Nations Conference

Today, the White House hosted the Tribal Nations Conference at the Interior Department. The conference continued the meaningful government-to-government dialogue that has made the march of progress happening in Indian Country possible. During his remarks today, President Obama again reiterated his deep commitment to making government work better to fulfill our trust management duties, support tribal self-determination and empower American Indian and Alaska Natives to unlock the economic potential of Indian communities.

This is a promise shared throughout the Obama administration, and today’s conference was a great manifestation of the progress we’ve made – bringing together several members of the President’s cabinet, key federal officials from across the administration as well as the White House, and leaders from more than 565 federally-recognized tribes.

This morning I had the pleasure of announcing the promising results of a pilot program to reduce the high incidence of violent crime on four Indian reservations. The Safe Indian Communities initiative, a two-year program that included targeted community policing, achieved a 35 percent overall decrease in violent crime across the four communities.

We know that safer Indian communities mean stronger Indian communities. The positive results from the pilot program are extremely encouraging and far surpassed our goals. We are committed to building on that progress and will be expanding the Safe Indian Communities initiative to other reservations that are experiencing high levels of violent crime.

And throughout the week, I was proud to announce several other initiatives - developed in consultation with tribal leaders - that strengthen consultations, restore greater control to individual American Indians and Alaska Natives and tribes over their lands, reform trust asset management and resolve water rights disputes:

  • The comprehensive and transparent consultation policy will provide a strong, meaningful role for tribal governments at all stages of federal decision-making on Indian policy. The draft policy embodies the best consultation practices and most innovative methods available, contains detailed accountability requirements for Interior managers, responds to the needs of tribal leaders to be more engaged in policy development and promotes more responsible decision-making on issues affecting Indian Country.
  • The sweeping reform of antiquated, “one-size-fits-all” federal leasing regulations for the 56 million surface acres the federal government holds in trust for tribes and individual Indians will provide landowners certainty and flexibility on the use of their land. The revised regulations, the most comprehensive reform of Indian land leasing rules in more than 50 years, will streamline the approval process for home ownership, expedite business leases and spur renewable energy development in Indian Country.
  • The Secretarial Commission on Indian Trust Administration and Reform was activated by naming five prominent tribal leaders to this national commission to undertake a forward-looking, comprehensive evaluation of how Interior manages nearly $4 billion in American Indian trust funds. The goal is to make the trust administration system more transparent, responsive, customer-friendly and accountable.
  • The release of $21 million under the Soboba of Luiseño Indians Settlement Act marks the final step in an historic water rights settlement and fulfills promises made to the Soboba Band and southern California communities when Congress approved the Act in 2008. The settlement will stabilize water supplies in the San Jacinto River Basin and enhance economic development opportunities for the Soboba Band and its neighbors.

These initiatives build on other Administration achievements during the past three years, including the historic $3.4 billion Cobell Settlement that addresses long-standing injustices; $1 billion in settlements to meet the critical water needs of Native American communities; the Tribal Law and Order Act, which allowed federal agencies to accelerate their focus on safe tribal communities; and acquiring more than 157,000 acres of land in trust on behalf of tribal nations.

Over the last three years we have made tremendous progress in Indian Country.  A lot of that progress is possible because the ideas that tribal leadership has shared at these conferences.  But we know we haven’t solved all of our problems and there is much work to be done. But I am confident with your help there isn’t anything we cannot achieve. As the President said today, this Administration has your back.

Ken Salazar is Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior
Related Topics: Civil Rights, Alaska
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