After delivering opening remarks and signing a memo on consultation, President Barack Obama
interacted directly with tribal leaders at the White House Tribal Nations Conference, which took place at the Interior Department
D.C., on Thursday, November 5.
Obama took questions from National Congress of American Indians
President Jefferson Keel, Navajo Nation
Vice President Ben Shelly, Tlingit and Haida Tribes
President Bill Martin, Ho-Chunk Nation
President Wilfred Cleveland, Karluk Traditional Council President Alicia Reft, Oglala Sioux Tribe President Theresa Two Bulls, Quapaw Tribe
Chairman John Berrey, Point Hope Village President Caroline Cannon, Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation
Chairman Marcus Levings and Paskenta Band of Nomlaki Indians Chair Leslie Lohse.
The following is the transcript of the interaction, as provided by the White House.
Thank you. All right, I think that we've got some time for questions
and answers. If you've got the questions, then if I don't have the
answers somebody here does. (Laughter.) So -- hold on, no shouting
now. (Laughter.) But I would love to come to Alaska, absolutely.
So everybody have a seat and Jefferson, how are we working this?
You get the first question? He's a big cheese, so he gets the first
question. (Laughter.) Go ahead.
MR. KEEL: Thank you, Mr. President. First of all, I want to thank
you for honoring your commitments that you've made to restore the
federal government's trust responsibility and the important relationship
between Indian nations and the United States.
We've seen you honor your commitments in the appointments you've
made to the many Native American people serving in your administration;
we certainly appreciate that. But also we've seen improvements in the
budgets for Indian programs and we're certainly appreciative of that.
As the President of the National Congress of American Indians I've
been asked to make a request on the fundamental issues. Tribes across
the country strongly support the creation of the executive order you
just mentioned and we're certainly proud of that, reaffirming the
inherent sovereign status of our nations and renewing the pledge to
honor the treaties and to trust responsibility. We particularly hope
for the establishment of real mechanisms for accountability, not only
for this administration but set a path for the future.
We request that you address the issues of Indian lands and the
trust responsibility. We need to restore tribal lands that have been
taken away. We need to change the management that exists on existing
tribal lands. There's so much potential for economic development. We
ask that the federal government become a partner in that journey. We
particularly thank you for the administration's support for the Carcieri
And finally, Mr. President, we know that you've made significant pledges
and commitments to Indian country, and we want to honor you by saying
thank you for those commitments. But more than that, we respect you as
a man of your word. You've restored hope to the Indian communities, and
we want to thank you for restoring that, not only just by your words,
but by your actions. Thank you again, Mr. President. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: I appreciate that. Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you
very much. Thank you very much.
Okay, who's next? There are mics in there. Please introduce yourself,
by the way.
Q Good morning, Mr. President, President Obama. I am the Vice
President of Navajo Nation. I got one small question to you. I watched
the message you gave us a while ago. It's very good, I like it. And
your commitment -- you have fulfilled your commitment. But one thing
I'm worried about, on behalf of all the Nation here and also the Navajo
Nation, what this administration -- you went and reached out to the
Native American Nation, which you're doing it now. It would be nice, it
would be -- if you could work with us with the congressional people and
make it a mandate that we should -- that the United States government
should work with the Indian Nation, because every four years -- and I
know you're going to win your reelection, you have another -- some
numbers of years. (Applause.) But the thing I'm worried about is the
end of the term and 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?
I really don't want to stand here and complain about we've been lied to
again. Through the histories of all Indian Tribe -- the treaty that
were made between the United States and Indian Tribe, it's been broken a
lot. How can we make it so solid that it stays there, no matter who,
what administration comes in? I think we need to work on that, sir.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I appreciate that. Look, obviously the executive
branch's job is to implement law. Now, a lot of these treaties, a lot
of these consultations are embedded in law and we've got to make sure
that they're implemented. So for the next eight years -- the next four
years, at least, let me not jump the gun -- (laughter) -- for the next
three years and one month -- (laughter) -- that I'm assured of this
current position, we are going to make sure that we put the
infrastructure and the framework in place so that a new dynamic, a new
set of relationships have been established.
And to the extent that we 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 that 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. So thank you so much. All right? (Applause.)
I want to make sure that some folks in the back get -- are there
any other microphones here? Is this the only one? Okay, because the --
I'm going to go ahead and call on this gentleman, but I don't everybody
just in the front seat to get a question, so go ahead.
Q Thank you, Mr. President. And thank you for fulfilling your
commitment to meet with the tribes in the very first year of your
administration. We really appreciate it. My name is Bill Martin. I'm
President of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, but today I
represent all the native peoples of Alaska. I present to you our
request for assistance.
We ask that you strengthen and support our sovereignty for all Alaska
tribes by supporting our fishing and subsistence rights; by providing
equity and funding across all tribal governments; providing an
infrastructure of basic services in our villages, of plumbing in town
hall meetings, in roads, sewer, et cetera; provide adequate emergency
response for suicide prevention and health care services. Suicide is a
very high rate in Alaska. It's -- for all of Alaska, is twice the
national average for natives. It's five times the average. And for
young men between 15 and 27 it's 12 times the national average. And
it's a serious issue and we hope that we can be able to provide more
funding to combat suicide.
I'd like you to help us by providing opportunities to enhance
education, cultural language teachings within our community. Many
Indians and Alaska natives live in third world countries. There's a
great poverty of unsustainable economies in Indian country. There is a
lack of capital.
Before the economic crisis, bank lending was very weak to
non-existent for tribal businesses. In similar conditions in
underdeveloped countries, the United States offers effective programs to
induce economic investments, two programs like the Overseas Private
Investment Corporation and the Export-Import Bank. We ask that you
commit to develop similar federally backed institutions designed
specifically for tribes, Alaska natives, Alaska native corporations.
We ask for -- that you work with us to stop the disastrous erosion
caused by global warming. Many of our villages are ready to slide off
into the waters of Alaska, and in some cases, there will be absolutely
no hope, we will need to move many villages. We ask you to ensure
tribal and rural equity for Alaska tribes, meaning those that live in
the urban areas and also in the rural areas; support Alaska tribes to
promote self-determination for all of Alaska people; to help and promote
public safety from child abuse, from spousal abuse.
And, finally, Mr. President, Alaska is a great land. Were it
superimposed on a map of the continental United States, it would stretch
from Florida to California, from North Dakota to Texas. And the people
of Alaska are just as different as the differences in this whole
country, but we stand united. We stand united in the pursuit of
happiness for our families, and to train them and bring them as we were
brought up for hundreds and hundreds of years since time immemorial.
And we stand united in inviting you to visit this great land.
Every Alaska native has a special place to go to get away from it
all. And if you ever decide to want to get away from it all, come see
one of us. (Laughter.) We'll take you to that special place.
THE PRESIDENT: All right. I often want to get away from it all.
(Laughter.) So I'm very much looking forward to visiting Alaska. Thank
you for sharing that important information with us. One thing I'd note
that -- obviously you guys are going to be here all day, so some of
these key written statements you're going to be able to present to not
only the relevant White House staff, but also the secretaries that were
-- that are going to be participating, as well as members of Congress
who are participating.
The only thing I do want to make sure you understand is when I do
visit Alaska, it's going to be during the summer. (Laughter.) So I
just wanted to be clear about that.
Okay. This -- sorry, I'm getting old, so -- there you go. Go
Q Good morning.
THE PRESIDENT: Good morning.
Q Honorable President Barack Obama -- he who cares -- it's good
to see you today. My name is Wilfred Cleveland from the Ho-Chunk
Nation, president of the Ho-Chunk Nation, the Bear Clan, from the state
Our people had organized a government in 1963. Topics that they
discussed was land, health, education, employment, unemployment. And
today we come here before you with those same concerns, 46 years later.
So these are -- in our ceremonies at home, in our hearts, we talk -- we
think about that today would be a day different from day when our
elders, when our ancestors, made treaties with the United States. They
were broken, they were not honored, but today would be different.
We have entitlements for these programs that are given to us. Rather
than being able to come to you and compete with other tribes each tribe
should be entitled to all these as part of the trust responsibility. So
we ask that you would make this possible for us so that we would be
having a good relationship with one another when we come to meetings.
And Mr. President, we have our -- we were not born owners of these
lands, but stewards. Today we have to purchase our lands back and we
have this process of putting our land back into trust (inaudible) or
trust process, and that's a long process that is there. A part of it is
-- part of this process is giving states, county, and even local
governments an opportunity to say whether these lands can go in the
trust or not. Now I ask you, is that nation-to-nation relationship?
Each of our nations have warriors, and today I name a few of those
warriors. I name Roger Jourdain, he was the chairman of the Red Lake
band of Chippewa. I name Wendell Chino, he was the chairman of the
Mescalero Apache Nation. Vice President Hubert Humphrey. Senator Ted
Kennedy. The then-Senator Walter Mondale. Each of these warriors gave
their full support to the advancement of all native nations. We today
are here to follow in those footprints so that our people can enjoy our
The U.S. government was formed with a native concept. Today we,
the native nations, have formed governments, and we must continuously
fight to maintain our sovereignty and our lands we were once stewards
of. We must have the same relationship with the federal government as
the states. We must not be restricted under the watchdog of the BIA,
but rather be enhanced with a nation-with-nation relationship.
We tribal leaders understand the task you face in the steering the
country out of the difficult times that we are in. However, on your
visit to the Crow reservation, you told those gathered that you intend
to acknowledge the tragic history of Native Americans over the past
three centuries, then promising during these (inaudible).
We will continue to support you and your administration during these
challenging times as you walk with us to make us stronger nations for
our future generations. Thank you for your time.
THE PRESIDENT: All right, thank you. (Applause.) Thank you.
Let's see if -- I want to get a woman's voice in here. (Laughter and
applause.) So how about this young lady right here? Right there in the
Q Hi. My name is Alicia Reft. I'm the president of the Karluk IRA
Traditional Council. Karluk is a small village in Kodiak Island,
Alaska. And I have lots to say, but the two most important things were
that my two nephews from home wanted me to shake your hand if I can, and
an elder that works at Safeway -- her name's Erlinda (phonetic) -- she
said to make sure and say hi and that she loves you very much.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, you tell Linda I love her back. (Laughter and
Q Thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you.
All right, right there in the red, right in the middle.
Q My name is Theresa Two Bulls. I'm president of the Oglala Sioux
Tribe from the state of South Dakota, and a member of the Great Plains
Tribal Chairman's Association. Thank you for meeting with us today, for
opening up your heart. It's good to hear your words. They're dear to
our hearts. I come on two issues -- honor the treaties. Too long they
have been not honored by the federal government. And you talk about a
change -- now is the change. Allow us and work with us to exercise our
sovereignty, our self-determination.
And the second issue is our children. Our children are sacred. We
want the best for them. And we ask that you help us to ensure a better
education, a better life, well-being for our children, because they're
going to be the future leaders.
And I say thank you, and we love you. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. All right. The gentleman right there
-- right here in front.
Q Thank you very much, Mr. President. My name is John Berrey. I'm
the chairman of the Quapaw Tribe in Oklahoma. And on behalf of the
other Oklahoma tribes, I want to thank you for coming here today.
I have one request. The Quapaw Tribe has the honor of having the
largest Superfund site in the United States -- it's Tar Creek Superfund
site. We have 72 million tons of mining waste on our lands. And I
would like to ask you to come visit it and see the devastation caused by
this management of tribal resources, and help elevate tribes to the same
level of states when we're dealing with the remediation of Superfund
sites so we can have the same voice as the state in designing a better
future and environment for our people.
THE PRESIDENT: Good. Well, this is really important. Obviously
the whole issue of environmental integrity on tribal lands is something
that too often has slipped through the cracks or decisions have been
made in the absence of consultation with the tribes. So this is going
to be a top priority generally -- improving our environmental quality.
The issue of climate change is something that we are working diligently
on and everybody has a huge interest in this, no place more so than
Alaska where the effects are already beginning to be felt and it's
starting to change I think the ability of native peoples to -- whose
economies oftentimes may be based on interacting with the natural
environment there. They're already starting to have to make significant
changes that have to be addressed.
So my hope is one of the things that will be taking place during
today's session and then continuing is you've got a great Secretary of
the Interior who cares about natural resources. But we've also got an
outstanding EPA director in Lisa Jackson. And figuring out how we can
improve environmental coordination with the tribal nations so that we're
matching the energy agenda that I already spoke about in my speech with
an environmental agenda I think is going to be not only good for native
peoples, it's also going to be good for the United States generally.
And we have a lot to learn from your nations in order to create the kind
of sustainability in our environment that is -- we so desperately need.
So I will make sure that somebody follows up directly with your
tribe on this Superfund site. All right. Uh-oh, now everybody is
raising their hand. (Laughter.)
All right, this young lady right here. Yes.
Q Thank you. Thank you for this opportunity. Thank you, Mr.
President. I'm so privileged and honored to be here. My name is
Caroline Cannon, president for the Native Village of Point Hope. I came
here with a message from my tribe, that we are impacted with the
offshore drilling, the decision that's been made on behalf of our tribe
during the Bush administration. And we would like you to overturn that.
I live in the coastal village, and exactly where climate change has
a big impact. We are a whaling community, and we need help. It's
happening so fast that last year -- a couple of years ago, there were
some incidents that occurred because of the ice condition during the
whaling season, so I would like help. And I think that -- we also are
around the coast of the Red Dog Mine, and they have decided that they're
going to have a discharge pipeline to our ocean, where we highly rely on
our food resources.
So thank you, again. And my seven-year-son says a big hello. He
said I should give you a hug, but I know that's not an opportunity right
now. (Laughter.) But thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: Maybe after the Q&A, I'll get that hug in.
(Laughter.) I want you to know, just with respect to offshore drilling,
Secretary Salazar is in the process of reviewing some of the directives
that were issued under the previous administration. And I am confident
that as part of that overarching review, that consultation with
potentially affected nations will be part of Ken's process.
Okay, you know, let's see, this gentleman right here with the
Q Honorable President Obama, this is the second time I get a
chance to address you. I've been wearing the war bonnet and I've been
really displeasing these gentle ladies behind me, but this is yours. In
our Hidatsa, Mandan, and Arikara ways you don't give a gift to a tent,
you give it to the individual. You are our Commander-in-Chief for the
soldiers, I'm a lieutenant in the Army Reserve. My name is
Ee-Ba-Da-Gish, White-Headed Eagle. I am the chairman of the Three
Affiliated Tribes, the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara. My name is Marcus
Dominick Levings. I first met you in Grand Forks at your VIP room. My
mother is Dowah (phonetic) Rezilda "Brady" Wells. She gave you the red,
white, and blue star quilt --
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, it's beautiful.
Q -- with all the prayers. She sent this to you as well, so
I'll give it to whatever Secret Service people I need to do that.
President Obama, I have two issues for my people, the Mandan,
Hidatsa, and Arikara, 11,000 tribal members who live in western North
Dakota on top of the Williston Basin, the Bakken Formation. We have oil
and gas development today, Mr. President. We have an opportunity to be
independent from any means of federal programs, any type of issues that
we had been not needing before the flood of Elbowoods, North Dakota, in
the 1950s. In the spirit of progress, our elders, our ancestors gave up
their bottom land. Ninety percent of our people live there, Mr.
President. And now they're up on high hilltops, 77-below wind chill
factors in winter.
We are the tribe, the Mandan, Hidatsas, and Arikaras, who saved
Lewis and Clark. We were the ones who made it so they can go out to
blaze the trail to Portland. Now we come for you to ask for some help
on our energy development, to get the 49-step process eliminated so our
elders, who are dying as we speak, can generate opportunities to receive
royalties on their minerals.
Second, with all this economic development boom that's going on,
Mr. President, in the Williston Basin, and Fort Berthold Reservation, 1
million acres, we need homes. We are short 1,000 homes, Mr. President,
home ownership and rentals as well. So on behalf of the Tribal Business
Council and my elders, I stand humbly in front of you and ask for your
help. Thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. (Applause.) I've got time only for one
more question unfortunately, and I'm not going to be able to get to
everybody, so right there in the middle, right there in the middle.
Q Persistence. And that's a characteristic of all Native
Americans. That's why I stood there for a long time.
So thank you very much, Mr. President, for meeting with us today on
this historical day. And we are truly grateful for this opportunity.
My name is Leslie Lohse. I'm with the Paskenta Nomlaki in California.
And in California there are many landless tribes. We do have gaming out
there, and I would ask that you ask the Secretary of Interior to make
some policies that are much more clarifying in getting our lands into
trust, because it's causing some issues out there between the gaming
tribes -- maybe nine gaming tribes -- and with the local communities and
our state itself. So we ask that you ask them to make these things more
clearly for all of us to abide by.
And another thing that I'd like to ask you to do is to take care of
our 8(a) program because those of us -- those that are landless out
there can develop economic development opportunities through the 8(a)
contracting program, and that may ease some of the burdens that some of
the landless tribes are, because you don't need to have land to operate
And there is an attack on our 8(a) program -- I perceive it as an
attack -- because it is limiting. We just barely started three years
ago with ours, and we're starting to get rolling, and now they want to
change the rules. So I ask that you pay mind to that -- that we not
inhibit our growth in that way so that we can purchase some of our lands
back and grow from that, instead of being dependent on gaming.
THE PRESIDENT: Okay. Well, listen, I am so grateful that all of
you are here. I appreciate what you've shared with me. But the most
important opportunity that you will have today is to interact directly
with the department heads, the secretaries who are in charge of
implementation on a whole range of these issues.
So I want intensive discussion and dialogue with them. Present to
them your concerns, your specific recommendations. They are here to
listen and to learn and to advise. I am going to meet back up with you
at the end of the day. And if you guys have just been partying and not
working -- (laughter) -- I'll know.
So I hope you have a wonderfully productive conference today. I
will see you at the end of it. And again, I appreciate everything that
you guys have done. God bless you. Thank you. (Applause.)
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