At the White House Tribal Nations Conference on December 2, 2011, President Obama, joined by Cabinet Secretaries and senior Administration officials, met with leaders from all federally recognized tribes for the third consecutive year to continue to strengthen the relationship between the United States government and tribal governments. During his remarks to the assembled leaders the President proclaimed this is “the moment when we stopped repeating the mistakes of the past, and began building a better future together, one that honors old traditions and welcomes every Native American into the American dream.”
Today we are releasing a Synopsis of the Conference to continue to facilitate the ongoing dialogue between the Administration and tribal leaders.
In his remarks during the closing session of the Conference, President Obama emphasized his Administration’s record and the important relationship built between Tribal Nations and the Administration over the last three years, stating that it is a “relationship that recognizes our sometimes painful history, a relationship that respects the unique heritage of Native Americans and that includes you in the dream that we all share.” The President and his Administration are committed to working with tribal leaders to develop and implement a policy agenda to achieve a brighter future for tribal governments and the people they serve.
During the Conference, representatives from federal agencies and many others also participated in break-out sessions to engage with tribal leaders about other initiatives and programs they would like to see the Administration take up. These break-out sessions focused on:
- Creating Jobs and Growing Tribal Economies
- Promoting Safe and Strong Tribal Communities
- Protecting Natural Resources and Respect for Cultural Rights
- Improving Access to Healthcare, Education, Housing, Infrastructure and Other Federal Services
- Strengthening the Government-to-Government Relationship
Also at the 2011 Conference the President announced the signing of Executive Order No. 13592 entitled, “Improving American Indian and Alaska Native Educational Opportunities and Strengthening Tribal Colleges and Universities.” As President Obama said, “We have to prepare the next generation for the future.
Over the past three years, the Obama Administration has worked tirelessly to overcome the most difficult problems facing tribal governments and the Conference highlighted many of these initiatives. The President signed into law the permanent authorization of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, to ensure Native Americans have access to quality health care, and the Tribal Law and Order Act, to enhance public safety in Indian Country. In June 2011, the First Lady launched Let’s Move! in Indian Country to promote health and well-being among Native American youth. Additionally, the President is continuing to work to make our government-to-government relationship stronger, by supporting legislation to recognize the authority of tribal courts to prosecute perpetrators of domestic violence or those who violate protection orders in Indian Country, regardless of whether the perpetrator is Indian or non-Indian. The President has also repeatedly called on Congress to pass legislation to reaffirm the authority of the Secretary of the Interior to take land into trust for all federally recognized Indian tribes following the Supreme Court’s Carcieri v. Salazar decision.
Because Native Americans face unemployment and poverty rates that are far higher than the national average, the Administration is continuing to work to find solutions to promote economic growth in Indian Country. The President’s commitment to this goal was reflected in his blueprint for an America built to last, including an economy built to last for Indian Country, which he laid out in his 2012 State of the Union address. This commitment has also been reflected in many of the Administration’s economic development efforts already underway like the recent White House Rural Council Roundtable on Native American Agriculture and Food.
These actions are concrete examples of the Administration’s commitment to addressing the major issues of concern to Indian country that also underscore U.S. support for the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. As President Obama has made clear, he expects his Administration to be held to a standard of action like that demonstrated by the work of these agencies.
Marking another important milestone in strengthening the government-to-government relationship between the federal government and Indian tribes, on April 11, 2012, the Department of Justice and Department of the Interior announced several settlements of tribal trust fund lawsuits. This litigation has imposed significant burdens on both the federal government and tribes, and in some cases, has cast a shadow over our relationship. Like the resolutions of the Cobell case, the Keepseagle case, and the Osage tribal trust case, these settlements help lift this shadow, and allow us to move forward together in the spirit of renewed cooperation.
These last three years mark a turning point for relations between Indian Country and the U.S. Government. While the United States has made great strides in Indian Country, much remains to be done. The President spoke about these strides in his remarks to the Conference, stating, “We’ve got to finish what we started. So today, I want to thank all of you for everything that you do. I want to ask you to keep going. And when you go back home, making your communities better places to live, I want you all to know that you’ve got a partner in Washington. You have an administration that understands the challenges that you face and, most importantly, you’ve got a President who’s got your back."
We thank all who participated in the 2011 White House Tribal Nations Conference and we look forward to future collaboration as we continue to build on the President’s actions and continue to bring real change to Indian Country.
Click here for more information about this Administration’s record in Indian Country.
Kimberly Teehee is the Senior Policy Advisor for Native American Affairs in the White House Domestic Policy Council.