President Barack Obama
made a historic visit to the Interior Department
on Tuesday and touted his plans to improve the
economy in Indian Country.
Obama said the $787 billion stimulus package will be used to fix crumbling Indian schools.
The law includes $236 million for school replacement and
rehabilitation funds, along with $400 million in
construction tax credits for tribes.
The package also includes loans that Obama said will create more
jobs. On some reservations, unemployment rates run as high
as 70 percent, according to Bureau of Indian Affairs
"The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will rebuild and remodel schools
on Indian reservations across this country -- while providing more than $100
million in loans to spur job creation in the Indian economy,"
Obama said to loud applause.
Coming at an event to mark Interior's 160th anniversary,
the remarks highlighted Obama's continued attention to an agency
-- sometimes called the "Department of Everything Else,"
the president noted -- that has often been neglected by the
The Obama administration is taking a different path and
has promised Interior a bigger role in environmental, energy,
accountability and other matters.
Secretary Ken Salazar
who became close friends with the president
when both were elected to the U.S. Senate, has quickly
taken a high-profile role in the administration.
Earl E. Devaney, the department's Inspector General
recently tapped by Obama to oversee distribution of the stimulus funds. And just three weeks ago, First
Lady Michelle Obama
visited the department and said her husband will live up to his campaign pledge to appoint
an Indian policy adviser at the White House.
The focus has tribal leaders hopeful about the direction the department
will take in the coming years. They felt neglected during the Bush
era, when budgets for the BIA were repeatedly cut.
"He is going to be a shining light for us," National Congress of American Indians
President Joe Garcia said of Obama.
Garcia, a Pueblo leader from New Mexico who met with the now-president during campaign, said Obama has
"listened wholeheartedly" to concerns raised by tribes.
"I think that is an indication to Indian Country that
we will se a lot more benefits, a lot more good for our people,"
said Garcia, who is leading NCAI's
2009 executive council
in Washington, D.C., this week.
Though Obama has yet to announce his choice to lead the BIA,
his team moved quickly to shore up a nominee rather than wait until
other Interior positions are filled, as past administrations have done.
received word of the potential pick within days of
the presidential inauguration in January.
And for the first time in history,
Obama is planning to nominate Native Americans to other
positions at Interior that aren't strictly related to
Indian affairs. Salazar, in testimony to
Congress last month, said Native candidates are being vetted as
Solicitor of the
and as Commissioner for the Bureau of Reclamation
With the stimulus on the books, tribes will soon be looking
to Obama to complete his first federal budget. He released
an outline last week and although he is seeking more
money for the BIA, the details are still unknown.
The event yesterday featured a blessing by Jerry Cordova,
a member of Taos Pueblo
who serves as the Native
American coordinator for the Bureau of Land Management
He gave the prayer in Tiwa, one of the languages spoken in
President Obama remarks at Interior anniversary
(3/3) | Secretary Salazar remarks at Interior
American Recovery and Reinvestment Act:H.R.1
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