It is truly a milestone in the history of federal-tribal relations: a genuine summit meeting between the heads of state of the United States of America and the tribal Nations residing within its borders. There is excitement in the air all over Indian America, and justifiably so.
It is to be a “listening” session for tribal input for future Administration policy, and I hope that NCAI has put together, from tribal input, a unified statement that is universal to all tribes and historically significant for tribal survival as governments far into the future.
But, if any announcements are made of new policy or programs calling for significant appropriations, we must be prepared for resistance on the part of Congress, and we must be prepared to help justify such outlays in testimony and advocacy efforts. Getting such funds delivered will be difficult, even with a friendly Congress.
As the recession continues to wane over the next year and the country regains some confidence in the economy, there will likely be a backlash against the President and the Democratic Congress. Recent polls already show a continuous slide in the President’s approval rating, and public feeling about Congress remains in the cellar. Many people will not remember their fears of another Great Depression, which pushed the Administration and Congress’ to spew an unprecedented outlay of money to stem the hemorrhaging in the financial sector, to save the auto industry, and to stimulate the overall economy. The massiveness of the resulting budget deficit and the national debt will come into reality, and many will question whether the radical actions were justified in light of the relative shortness of the recession, not will not give credit to the massive infusion for defusing the threat of Depression.
Certainly, this is what the Republicans are hoping for, and they are already feeding the fire on TV and radio to make it happen. The political pressure will grow and the mid-term election approaches, and many in Congress who are friendly to the Indian cause will start backing off and putting distance between themselves and the President.
President Obama will be seeking the backing of Indian Country for his ambitious domestic agenda. He has great respect for Indian power at the polls, which had a significant role in putting him in office. And he will ask us to deliver again.
He will also challenge the Tribal leaders to take initiatives in their communities to fix the problems of which he is all too well aware by now.
In his talk to the NAACP convention in July, he told his audience of Black leaders, “Your destiny is in your hands, and don’t you forget that.” The tribal leaders at the Summit meeting might expect the President to give that same message, which he delivered throughout his campaign: “Change comes from the bottom up, not from the top down.” In other words, don’t expect the government to do much for you in the coming years; the government can help, but the initiative must be yours.
If this historic meeting with the tribes includes that message from the President – and I hope it does – it will stimulate more tribal and local action at the community level of the reservations, where the tribes are bleeding within. President Obama is greatly respected throughout Indian Country, and his admonition would be heeded.
The possibilities that the Summit promises are exciting, but I pray that it does not just feed the euphoria that has engulfed Indian Country since President Obama’s inauguration. And I pray that when the Summit is over the tribal governments will respond to the challenge. If that is not the case, there will be an awful letdown.
Again I quote what Mr. Farrakhan told his following last summer:
“…we must not allow our people to live in a false world of euphoria that would give way to great despair if we don’t take on our shoulders the responsibility that God has placed on us to get up and do something for ourselves.”
Nevertheless, the upcoming November 5th Summit will be truly a milestone in the history of federal-Tribal relations; a meeting between the heads of state of both entities, face to face, eye to eye. It is the ultimate recognition of tribal sovereignty. We must rejoice in that, and take advantage of the moment to solidify our sovereignty and our tribal purpose and causes.
However, I hope the summit and what it promises will not just keep Indian Country floating in euphoria, for the challenges are on the ground in the reservation villages, and solving them is our responsibility.
Charles Trimble, Oglala Lakota from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation was a principal founder of the American Indian Press Association in 1970 and served as Executive Director of the National Congress of American Indians from 1972-1978. He is retired and lives in Omaha, Nebraska. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His website is iktomisweb.com.
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