WASHINGTON, D.C. - At the first tribal summit for the 564 federally recognized Native American tribes in 15 years, Navajo Nation Vice President Ben Shelly asked President Obama to take steps to ensure that consultation and collaboration with tribes through government-to-government relationships becomes a mandate that would continue through future administrations.
Addressing President Obama, Vice President Shelly said, "I watched the message you gave us a while ago. It's very good, [but] it would be nice if you could work with us and [Congress] to make it a mandate that the United States government should work with the Indian Nation(s). The thing I'm worried about is that at the end of your term, what happens with all the plans that we're going to be putting together with your administration - our administration. I supported you, and Navajo Nation did. What happens to all of that?"
Vice President Shelly continued, "Through the histories of all Indian Tribe(s), the treaties that were made between the United States and Indian Tribe(s) have been broken a lot. How can we make it so solid that (consultation and collaboration) stays, no matter what administration comes in? I think we need to work on that, sir."
President Obama remarked that working with Congress, he would ensure these gatherings continue through the future.
"[W]e can partner with Congress to lock some of those good habits in and end some of the bad habits that we've seen in the past; that's something that we'll be very interested in doing. So I think what should be part of the agenda of consultation over the next several years, is how do we continue to institutionalize some of the best practices of consultation and collaboration and partnership that's so important," President Obama stated.
The question and answer session came at the end of President Obama's opening remarks for the conference. Obama welcomed Native leaders and said he will sign a memorandum instructing his cabinet members to strengthen the government-to-government dialog with Native nations within the next 90 days.
A year after being elected, President Obama has appointed several Native Americans into prominent roles in his administration. Among those include Larry Echo Hawk as head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs; Yvette Roubideaux as Director of the Indian Health Service; Hilary Tomkins as Solicitor of the Department of Interior; Mary Smith as Assistant Attorney General for the Department of Justice; Kim Teehee as Senior Policy Advisor for Native American Affairs; and Jodi Gillette as a Deputy Associate Director White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs.
President Obama added, "We faced an economic crisis in which we took bold and swift action ... We allocated more than $3 billion of the Recovery Act to help with some of your most pressing needs, like rebuilding and renovating schools on reservations across the country. We provided more than $100 million in loans to spur job creation in tribal economies. And we made sure my budget included significant increases in funding for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Indian Health Service, and other agencies that have critical roles to play in your communities."
The White House Tribal Nations Conference was held at the Department of the Interior, with opening and closing remarks from President Obama and discussions ranging from jobs to energy to housing to health care. This conference provided tribal leaders an opportunity to interact directly with the President and representatives from the highest levels of his Administration.
Each federally recognized tribe was invited to send one representative.