White House Tribal Nations Conference

monumentThe White House Tribal Nations Conference is considered one of a series of conversations that will serve as a basis of action to provide a better future for American Indians and Alaska Natives.

Secretary of the Department of Interior, Ken Salazar, opened this second conference with a summary of President Obama’s initiatives and accomplishments which included restoring tribal homelands, building stronger economies, improving upon the health and safety of Native youth and developing a structured and meaningful consultation policy.

During the President’s speech, he emphasized that a priority is to improve the economy and create jobs. To do this, he noted his Administration has worked with tribal leaders to implement the Indian Reservation Roads Program, increase broadband internet on reservations and assist in helping tribes develop clean energy. Progress also is being made to address other priority issues:

  • In 2010 the President signed the Affordable Care Act which, among other things, reauthorizes the Indian Health Care Improvement Act.
  • The Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010 was also enacted which may help to improve tribal justice systems as well as combat drug and alcohol abuse within tribal communities.
  • The President also announced his support of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

After the opening speeches, tribal leaders participated in break-out sessions to discuss a variety of topics including energy, education, health care, economic development, housing, natural resources, homeland security and cultural protection. Below are some of the issues raised from the tribal perspective during the break-outs:

  • Indian tribes are sovereign and the Federal Government should consult with them on a nation-to-nation basis, before consulting with states.
  • Indian tribes should be consulted before the President signs legislation that is harmful to their communities, especially if treaty rights will be affected.
  • Indian tribes need coordinated points of contact in the Federal Government to access resources offered by the Federal Government.
  • Measures should be put in place so that President Obama’s consultation policy continues after he leaves office.
  • Federal funding should be delivered directly to Indian tribes, without interference from the states.
  • High-level federal officials should visit tribal communities to see the housing conditions.
  • Indian programs (specifically the Indian Health Service) should be exempt from mandatory spending cuts.
  • The government should enhance support for early childhood education and Head Start programs.
  • The federal government should support Native heritage education in tribal schools and public schools with large Native student populations.
  • The high occurrence of drug abuse on tribal lands needs to addressed.
  • Tribes need more clean-energy projects to promote economic development and protect natural resources from pollution.
  • There needs to be improved communication and ability for tribes and the federal government to predict disaster response needs in Indian Country.