Blog Posts Related to the Native American Community

  • Native American Business Leaders Share Their Ideas on Economic Growth with Senior Administration Officials

    Recently, I wrote about the Obama Administration’s commitment to collaborate with tribal leaders and experts in Native American economic development to help the White House Rural Council to develop policy recommendations on issues impacting Indian Country.

    Last week, the Domestic Policy Council and National Economic Council convened a meeting with Native American economic development experts for a White House Native American Business Leaders Roundtable. As part of the White House Rural Council’s ongoing engagement with leaders from across Rural America, this roundtable gave Administration officials an opportunity to hear from Native American business leaders and policy experts about ways we can work together to improve economic conditions and create jobs in tribal communities.

    At the listening session, participants discussed challenges tribal businesses face, including access to capital, job skills and training shortfalls, and limited broadband deployment and adoption in tribal communities.  Meeting participants included David Gipp, the president of the United Tribes Technical College for the past three decades; Valerie Fast Horse, who has led efforts to bring wireless Internet service to the Coeur d’Alene Indian Reservation and is now working on a $12.2 million project to provide faster Internet service through fiber optic connections; and Jackie Johnson Pata, executive director of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), who worked on Indian Country economic development as Deputy Assistant Secretary for HUD’s Office of Native American Programs during the Clinton Administration and now coordinates NCAI’s federal policy advocacy on behalf of tribal governments.  Participants were asked to provide suggestions and insight on potential near-term administrative actions to foster economic growth and community development in Indian Country.

  • Strengthening Our Commitment to Indian Country

    Ed. Note: Cross-posted from The Justice Blog.

    Today marks the one year anniversary of the Tribal Law & Order Act (TLOA), an historic piece of legislation signed into law by President Obama on July 29, 2010. That anniversary represents an important moment to reflect on the work that has been done to address the crisis of the public safety in tribal communities and to recognize how much work remains to be done.

    To offer just a snapshot of what’s at stake, studies show that nearly three out of five Native American women had been assaulted by their spouses or intimate partners and one third of all American Indian women will be raped during their lifetimes. We also know that, on some reservations, Native women are murdered at a rate more than ten times the national average. Tribal leaders, police officers, and prosecutors tell us of an all-too-familiar pattern of escalating violence that goes unaddressed, with beating after beating, each more severe than the last, ultimately leading to death or severe physical injury.

    With these sobering statistics in mind, soon after he came into office, Attorney General Eric Holder identified building and sustaining safe and secure tribal communities as one of the Department of Justice’s top priorities—in line with his key goals of addressing violent crime and protecting our nation’s most vulnerable. In June of 2009, the Department launched a wide-ranging initiative to strengthen public safety in Indian Country. Since that time, the Department has taken a number of steps to deepen its commitment to tribal communities and to develop more effective partnership with tribal leaders, police, prosecutors, courts, and advocates to combat crime in tribal communities.

  • Celebrating the One Year Anniversary of the Tribal Law and Order Act

    President Obama and the Native American Community

    President Barack Obama greets Lisa Marie Iyotte in the Blue Room of the White House prior to signing the Tribal Law and Order bill signing ceremony, July 29, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

    This week marks the one-year anniversary of the enactment of the Tribal Law and Order Act (TLOA), a comprehensive law that is improving the federal government’s ability to work with Indian tribes in the investigation and prosecution of crime impacting tribal communities.  President Obama was proud to sign the TLOA, as it fills key gaps in our criminal justice system that for far too long were not addressed. 

    Lisa Iyotte, a Lakota woman, a survivor, shared her personal story of her brutal rape that occurred in her home on a reservation as her young daughters watched.  The man who raped her was never prosecuted for his crimes against her.  During her introduction of President Obama at the TLOA signing ceremony, she said, “if the Tribal Law and Order Act had existed 16 years ago, my story would be very different.”  As President Obama put it, “when one in three Native American women will be raped in their lifetimes, that is an assault on our national conscience; it is an affront to our shared humanity; it is something that we cannot allow to continue.”

    TLOA helps us better address public safety in tribal communities.  Specifically, TLOA gives tribes greater sentencing authority, improves defendant’s rights, establishes new guidelines and training for officers handling domestic violence and sex crimes, strengthens services to victims, helps combat alcohol and drug abuse and helps at-risk youth, expands recruitment and retention of Bureau of Indian Affairs and tribal officers and gives them better access to criminal databases. 

  • Removing Barriers to Successful Agriculture in Indian Country

    Ed. Note: Champions of Change is a weekly initiative to highlight Americans who are making an impact in their communities and helping our country rise to meet the many challenges of the 21st century.

    Being a part of the White House “Champions of Change” is both an honor and humbling experience. It was an honor to be in the presence of the President and humbling as there are thousands out there who have accomplished more for their communities than me.

    I began work for the Intertribal Agriculture Council (IAC) 20 years ago as a Natural Resource Director which entailed the identification and solutions to regulatory barriers presented by both the Department of Agriculture and Department of Interior. In 1998, I was promoted to Director of Programs and assigned the responsibility of the day to day supervision of the 11 employees. The individual who played the leadership role in bringing about the formation of the IAC had to resign for medical reasons in 2001 and the Board of Directors selected me to fulfill the role of Executive Director.

    The IAC Board of Directors is comprised of individual Board Members who represent one of the 12 regions of Indian Country, and it is the Board of Directors that set the priorities for the overall direction of the organization as well as assign tasks to the Executive Director. For this reason, I believe that each of our Directors should play a role in the recognition of the Intertribal Agricultural Council.

    IAC was founded in 1987 by order of Congress to pursue and promote the conservation, development and use of Indian Country agricultural resources for the betterment of Native American people. Land-based agricultural resources are vital to the economic and social welfare of many Native American and Alaskan Tribes. The harmonies of man, soil, water, air, vegetation and wildlife that collectively make-up the American Indian agriculture community, influence our emotional and spiritual well-being. Prior to 1987, American Indian agriculture was basically unheard of outside reservation boundaries.

  • Tribal Members in Rural America

    Ed. Note: Champions of Change is a weekly initiative to highlight Americans who are making an impact in their communities and helping our country rise to meet the many challenges of the 21st century.

    I recently was invited to the Champions of Change event for rural America. It was great to meet with President Obama and Secretary Vilsack and hear how much they cared about some of the unique issues facing rural America. The President took the time and was gracious enough to introduce himself to everyone at the meeting. All and all, not my typical Wednesday afternoon.

    I run a company called Ho-Chunk, Inc. located on an Indian reservation in Winnebago, Nebraska. The company is owned by the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska and our mission to create job opportunities for our tribal members and to help our tribe become economically self-sufficient. After 15 years of efforts we have companies involved in retail, government contracting, distribution, construction, housing and various internet companies. We do work in three other foreign countries. We started with 1 employee and now have 1400. Our revenues have grown from zero to close to $200 million a year, all in a rural Nebraska town of 1500 people.

    In 1991, the tribe had an unemployment rate of approximately 60 percent. Now we have more jobs than working age people in our community. We are proud of our accomplishments economically, but social and educational development are just as important to our tribe. In 2000, Ho-Chunk, Inc. started a non-profit corporation called the Ho-Chunk Community Development Corporation. The non-profit's mission was to help make our community a better place and to provide supplemental capital to build the infrastructure in our community to help it grow. To date, our non-profit has raised over $23 million for our community.

  • Winning The Future for Native American Youth

     On Sunday, the White House Office of Public Engagement launched the Native American Youth Challenge program.  In a video message, President Obama announced the challenge at the 2011 UNITY Youth Conference, calling for young American Indian and Alaska Native leaders to submit their stories of leadership and service in their communities.  The stories submitted will be considered and evaluated based on ademonstrated record of service to one’s tribe, nation, village, or community.  Young leaders who have sought to improve their communities are encouraged to submit stories in one or more of the following areas:

    • Education, Mentorship or Afterschool Programs;
    • Sports, Nutrition or Let’s Move! in Indian Country;
    • Substance and Alcohol Abuse Prevention;
    • Health and Wellness, including Youth Suicide Prevention;
    • Building Healthy Relationships and Peer Relationships;
    • Cultural Preservation and Native Languages;
    • Anti-Bullying and Personal Empowerment;
    • Self Expression through Arts and Crafts;
    • Emerging Leadership in Government Service; and
    • Economic and Community Development

    As a part of the challenge, a handful of exceptional Native youth community leaders will be invited to the White House this fall in conjunction with the activities of Native American heritage month.  Submissions should include a description of the leadership initiatives or community programs; the number of people involved or effected; key examples of success; and explanations of the barriers or challenges and how they were overcome.   Simply put, we hope to hear from Native American Youth to learn about how you are working to overcome the challenges facing your communities – send us your stories!

    One great example of how young people are overcoming the challenges facing Indian Country is by taking part in the First Lady’s initiative, Let’s Move! in Indian Country.  Today, the White House Summer South Lawn Series hosted a lacrosse event for approximately 80 Native American youth from the Menominee Nation, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, Native Lifelines of Baltimore, as well as local youth from Annapolis and D.C.  The groups played and learned about Lacrosse with some of the best players in the game, while also learning about the origins of the game and cultural traditions from members of the Onondaga Nation.  Let’s Move! in Indian Country strives to bring  together federal agencies, communities, nonprofits, corporate partners and tribes to end the epidemic of childhood obesity in Indian Country within a generation. 

    Charles Galbraith is the Associate Director of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs and Public Engagement

  • Collaborating with Tribes through the White House Rural Council

    On June 9th, President Obama signed an Executive Order establishing the first White House Rural Council. While rural communities face challenges, they also present economic potential. The Council will address these challenges, build on the Administration’s rural economic strategy, and improve the implementation of that strategy.

    The Council, chaired by Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, was established to focus on policy initiatives for Rural Americans and will coordinate to increase the effectiveness of federal engagement with tribal governments. According to the 2010 U.S. Decennial Census, 42.6 percent of all Native Americans live in rural areas. In addition, some reservations face unemployment rates of up to 80 percent. The Council will work across federal agencies to address these challenges and promote economic prosperity and quality of life in Indian Country and across rural America. The Council will work to break down silos and find areas for better collaboration and improved flexibility in government programs and will work closely with state, local and tribal governments, non-profits, and the private sector to leverage federal support.

    Plans are already underway for the Council to address ways to expand access to capital in rural communities, including an examination of the unique challenges facing Indian Country in increasing the flow of credit to Indian reservations. Economic development and job creation in Indian Country—and in all other sectors of the U.S. economy—depend on access to capital. When credit-worthy business owners can easily borrow to finance business start-up and expansion, the economy thrives. One thing we hear from tribal leaders, however, is that borrowing money for business development in Indian Country is difficult. The reasons range from difficulties in using tribal land as collateral, to the small number of lending institutions serving Indian Country, to lenders’ perceptions that lending to tribal members or tribal governments is risky.

  • A Historic Step Toward True Trust Reform

    Ed. Note: WhiteHouse.gov just launched a new page dedicated to the Native American community, view it here.

    An historic court action on June 20 signaled the beginning of a new era in the U.S. Government’s relations with American Indian communities.

    By approving the $3.4 billion settlement of the Cobell v. Salazar lawsuit, U.S. Senior District Judge Thomas F. Hogan paved the way for payments to as many as a half a million American Indians to resolve their class-action litigation regarding the federal government’s management of their individual trust accounts and assets.

    A fund of $1.5 billion will be used to compensate class members for their claims regarding potential mismanagement of their trust funds and assets and historical accounting. The agreement also establishes a $1.9 billion fund for the voluntary buy-back and consolidation of fractionated land interests, which have been proliferating through succeeding generations. The program, to be administered by the Department of the Interior, provides individual American Indians an opportunity to obtain cash payments for small divided land interests and free up the “fractionated” land for the benefit of tribal communities.   The settlement also provides for a Indian Education Scholarship Fund of up to $60 million for the benefit of American Indians and Alaska Natives.