Indian Country celebrates Barack Obama presidency
The lines were long and the ballrooms were crowded but Indian Country celebrated late into the night on Tuesday to mark the new administration of President Barack Obama.

Over 3,500 people braved cold weather and transit delays to attend the 11th American Indian Inaugural Ball at a Washington, D.C., area hotel. Just hours after the swearing-in of Obama as the 44th president, the mood was jubilant, even as talk turned to the future and what it might hold for the first Americans.

"We're so excited to have Barack Obama as the president of the United States but what we've got to do now is tell him that we've got hundreds of presidents and chiefs here, and we've go to talk to him," said Ernie Stevens Jr., the chairman of the National Indian Gaming Association, to loud applause.

Amid a whirlwind of activities in the nation's capitol, tribal leaders turned the inaugural into a work-session. On Monday, they heard Interior Department pick Ken Salazar and transition team members promise to make energy, economic development and resolution of the trust debacle among their top priorities.

With Salazar, a former senator from Colorado, officially on board after having been confirmed yesterday as a member of Obama's Cabinet, tribes will be paying close attention to nominees for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians and the National Indian Gaming Commission. They will also watch for potential changes to policies affecting land-into-trust and gaming, two areas of contention under the Bush administration.

Though Salazar has promised a new era of government-to-government relationships, Joe Garcia, the president of the National Congress of American Indians, urged tribes to do their part to ensure their voices are heard. "My brothers and sisters, we cannot let our guard down," he told attendees of the ball. "The minute we do, we will suffer."

For several hours last night, however, partygoers were focused on enjoying the historic induction of the first African-American president. The revelry extended well past midnight.

"Come back later," Nedra Darling, a ball spokesperson and organizer said. "We'll be going till about 4am."

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