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Forging a New and Better Future

Kimberly Teehee, member of the Cherokee Nation and Senior Policy Advisor for Native American Affairs for the White House Domestic Policy Council, discusses the release of the Progress Report from the White House Tribal Nations Conference.

In his remarks at the White House Tribal Nations Conference last year, President Obama said, “I am absolutely committed to moving forward with you and forging a new and better future together.  It’s a commitment that’s deeper than our unique nation-to-nation relationship. It’s a commitment to getting this relationship right, so that you can be full partners in America’s economy, and so your children and grandchildren can have an equal shot at pursuing the American dream.”
During the conference, Tribal leaders expressed their visions for the future and identified obstacles that must be overcome to achieve their goals.  Soon after that historic gathering, I worked closely with Interior Secretary Salazar’s staff to synthesize the input from tribal leaders.  The following were the most common issues that emerged from this process:

  • Strengthening the Government-to-Government Relationship
  • Health Care
  • Public Safety
  • Education
  • Sustainable Economic Development
  • Environment
  • Respect for Cultural Rights

Today, we are releasing the White House Tribal Nations Conference Progress Report.  This report, which was developed by the participating agencies, provides a summary of the feedback we received about the conference, and provides an update on the progress the Administration is making on the issues of concern to Indian Country.  Thanks to tribal input which helped focus the Administration, I am pleased to report that we are making progress in these areas.  Some highlights include:

  • During the summit, the President signed a Presidential Memorandum directing the Federal agencies to submit detailed plans on how they intend to fully implement Executive Order 13175, “Consultation and Coordination with Tribal Governments.”  The agencies are currently implementing these plans and will submit progress reports in August.
  • The permanent reauthorization of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act was included in the Affordable Care Act which the President signed in March. We are working very hard to begin implementation of the many provisions in the Affordable Care Act.
  • President Obama supports the Tribal Law and Order Act, which would improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the tribal justice systems and better prevent crime in tribal communities.  In addition, the President supports initiatives to hire new Indian country Assistant United States Attorneys to prosecute cases involving violent crime on Native lands and provide additional federal agents to support law enforcement efforts in tribal communities.   Addressing crimes involving violence against women and children on Native lands is a particular priority of the Administration.
  • The President supports enhancing the role of tribes in Indian education by strengthening the Tribal Education Agencies through the Elementary and Secondary Education Assistance reauthorization.
  • The United States is formally reviewing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and is doing so in consultation with Indian tribes and with input from other interested stakeholders

All of these steps are part of President Obama’s commitment to ensure that tribal voices are heard in Washington. 

We are moving in the right direction, but our work is not done.  To bring real change to tribal nations, we must continue to work together, on a nation-to-nation basis, in order to realize a future where Native people live long and healthy lives in safe communities, where they are able to pursue economic self-sufficiency, and where their children and grandchildren can have an equal opportunity at pursuing the American dream.  We will continue to look to the wisdom and experience of tribal leaders to inform our policy agenda. 

Kimberly Teehee, a member of the Cherokee Nation, is Senior Policy Advisor for Native American Affairs, White House Domestic Policy Council.