Native Village Youth and Education News
October, 2009


White House opens doors to tribal leaders
By Rob Capriccios
Condensed by Native Village

Washington D.C.:  Last August, several tribal leaders traveled to Washington D.C.  and the White House grounds. It was one of the rare times in American history when a cross-section of tribes were invited by a sitting president’s staff to conduct official business. Administration officials said the meeting was a first step in enhancing relations with tribes.

"...President Obama is committed to improving communication between Indian nations and his administration and believes that regular dialogue will foster a respectful partnership and assist in identifying and addressing the needs of Indian country,”  said Shin Inouye, a spokesman for the White House. He said the purpose was to focus on “important issues that impact Native American communities,”
 and discussing a “tribal nations conference” to be held at the White House in the future.

A yearly gathering of tribal nations was promised by Obama during his campaign for president. Another larger gathering is expected to take place this fall.

Attendees seemed generally satisfied with the proceedings. Some said it left them feeling inspired.

“We were pleased to have been asked to provide our input, and we were assured that the White House will engage in ongoing consultation," said Oneida Nation representative Ray Halbritter. He added that  tribal leaders spoke about sovereignty, taxation, land claims and other issues at the meeting.

However, some from Indian country said the event could have been better organized. While there are 564 federally recognized tribes and several state-recognized tribes, many were not invited, and others could not afford to attend. Tribal leaders say these problems need addressed.

Little snafus were apparent on the day of the event. For instance, one of the few known pictures of the rare tribal leaders’ meeting was taken with a cell phone camera of a tribal chairman. 

Several tribal leaders publicly expressed their thoughts after the meeting.

Derek Bailey, chairman of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, feels it’s important for the White House to communicate with all tribal leaders.  He sent several Twitter messages during the meeting to share information with his own tribal members as well as others who were either uninvited or unable to come.

“I hope that I didn’t offend people by putting a tweet out. To me, it was just so important to share. … I wanted to share the exuberance I felt.  For the effective change, tribal leaders need to have equal understanding – when you communicate, the message is shared and everyone feels included.”

He thnks two ways to improve communications with all tribes is through video links from future meetings, and increasing press coverage on Native issues.

St. Regis Mohawk Chief James Ransom also attended the meeting with the tribe’s Chief, Mark Garrow.

“Our understanding is that the federal government is looking to improve communications with tribes, so this, the first ‘listening session,’ will be followed up by other meetings between White House and tribal officials,” he said.

J.C. Seneca from the Seneca Nation of New York urged the administration to live up to Obama’s campaign promise to engage in nation-to-nation consultation.

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