White House Tribal Nations Conference expands to a second day

President Barack Obama with Native youth at the White House Tribal Nations Conference on November 5, 2015. Photo by U.S. Department of the Interior

The final White House Tribal Nations Conference of the Obama era is less than a month away and this year's event is growing in scope.

The conference is now taking place over two days. Tribal leaders are being invited to participate in meetings on September 26 and September 27 in Washington, D.C.

The main event will be held on September 26 at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium, not far from the White House. President Barack Obama is slated to attend, as he has done for the prior seven conferences.

But another day has been added to the schedule. The Interior Department will be hosting a series of meetings of the White House Council on Native American Affairs on September 27.

Tyler Thurman (Sac and Fox / Comanche / Navajo) sings a flag song at the White House Tribal Nations Conference on November 5, 2015. Photo by U.S. Department of the Interior

Invitations went out to all 567 federally recognized tribes earlier this month, after the conference date was announced. Tribal leaders are being asked to confirm their attendance by September 14.

"The goal of this year’s conference is to strengthen the nation-to-nation relationship as well as celebrate the accomplishments and progress we have made together in Indian Country," read a message to tribes that was signed by Karen Diver, the former chairwoman of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa who serves as the Special Assistant to the President for Native American Affairs.

The conference grew out of a pledge Obama made during his 2008 presidential campaign. He promised yearly meetings with tribes, an idea that resonated strongly in Indian Country and, up until that point, had never been undertaken by the White House on a regular basis.

Since then, hundreds of tribal leaders have traveled to the nation's capital every winter, usually in November or December, for a chance to speak with Obama and to meet with Cabinet officials and other top members of the administration. This year's conference, though, is being held earlier than usual as the nation prepares to choose the next president.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell with the Native American Women Warriors at the White House Tribal Nations Conference on November 5, 2015. Photo by U.S. Department of the Interior

Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee, has promised to hold the conference if she wins the election in November. Her platform vows to expand on the gains that tribes have seen during the Obama years.

Donald Trump, the Republican nominee, has not said anything publicly about his approach to federal-tribal relationship since launching his campaign over a year ago. He met with a small group of tribal leaders in Arizona and his running mate, Mike Pence, held a town hall at Sandia Pueblo in New Mexico earlier this month but did not mention Indian Country at all.

The first scheduled debate between Clinton and Trump, incidentally, takes place on September 26.

At prior conferences, anywhere from 200 to 300 tribes have sent representatives. The 2014 and 2015 conferences drew a large contingent of Native youth, something that's also expected this year as part of the Generation Indigenous initiative.

The White House Council on Native American Affairs was created by Obama in 2013 to ensure all federal agencies honor the government-to-government relationship. It is chaired by Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, who has taken steps to ensure that it remains a permanent fixture of the executive branch no matter who occupies the Oval Office.

The Interior Department will be hosting the White House Council meetings at 1849 C Street NW on September 27. Topics are expected to include economic development, education, energy, health and public safety and justice.

Relevant Documents:
FAQ - 2016 Tribal Nations Conference (White House)

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