This is the latest post in our "Asked and Answered" series, in which we periodically feature an exchange between the President or a Senior Administration Official and an American who wrote him. If you'd like to write the President yourself, you can do so here.
As a candidate visiting the Crow Nation in Montana in May 2008, President Obama pledged to host an annual summit with tribal leaders to ensure that tribal nations have a seat at the table when facing important decisions about their communities. Today, the President hosts the eighth and final Tribal Nations Conference of his Presidency.
We’ve made historic progress to strengthen the nation-to-nation relationship and build a more prosperous and resilient Indian Country—helped by countless tribal leaders and youth who have worked alongside the President to make change. One of those leaders is Lindsay Early, a member of the Comanche Tribe who has dedicated her career to lifting up her community, and who wrote the President earlier this year.
Dear President Obama,
I am a proud enrolled member of the Comanche Nation of Oklahoma and a recent graduate of the University Of Oklahoma College Of Law. I wanted to take a few moments to thank you for all of the hard work you and First Lady Michelle Obama have done on behalf of Indian Country. As the end of your second term is quickly approaching, I wanted to offer some native insight on just how effective your policies have been in Indian Country.
Like you, I came from very humble beginnings. My single mother did the best she could to raise me. We struggled with many problems that are common to Native Americans; poor healthcare, poverty, lack of access to jobs, and addiction were prevalent in my community. We lived with different relatives and friends, and sometimes even lived in our car. I worked hard and excelled in school, and was fortunate to receive the Gates Millennium Scholarship and went on to become the first in my family to graduate from college. During my freshman year of college, my best friend and I skipped our classes, put on our Barack the Vote tee-shirts, and scrounged up enough gas money to travel four hours to Dallas to go see the promising young Senator from Chicago.
At the rally, we met people of all ages, races, and creeds. Despite our different circumstances, we were all united by the common hope for change and better opportunities. When it was time for you to speak, the crowd grew quiet, anxious to hear your plans for this great country of ours. In the speech, you promised you would always do your best to represent all Americans. When you mentioned plans to represent African Americans, the crowd erupted. When you spoke about the importance of the Latino vote, the crowd once again let out a roaring cheer. Lastly, you mentioned that you would do your best to represent Native Americans. Two little voices screamed as loud as we could from the balcony. You answered back, "I hear you girls, and when I am elected, I won't forget you!"
We were absolutely ecstatic. You see, President Obama, this was the first time we had ever heard any presidential candidate mention Native Americans. This was the first time any presidential candidate had made us feel that we mattered and our voices were important. You made me feel that through hard work and determination, anyone can achieve the American dream, and you were right.
After law school, I returned home to my tribe and accepted a position advising the Comanche Nation Chairman. My position requires me to keep our tribal leaders apprised of federal policies and proposed legislation regarding water rights, economic development, sovereignty, natural resources, and the Indian Child Welfare Act. Because of this, I know firsthand how your policies have reinvigorated Indian Country and allowed tribes the opportunities to continue working hard to improve the lives of our citizens.
Just as witnessing you speak in Dallas changed the course of my life, your presidency has positively changed how Indian Country interacts with our national decision makers. By vetoing the Keystone Pipeline, you helped us protect our sacred sites. By tackling climate change head on, you have insured that our planet will be safe for generations to come. The passage of the Affordable Care Act provided critical healthcare to members of tribes who otherwise might not be able to afford it. The Tribal Law and Order Act allowed tribes increased jurisdiction to prosecute those that threaten the safety and welfare of our citizens. By speaking out against the Washington football team name, you have reminded us that we deserve the same treatment as any other group in this great nation of ours. The Generation Indigenous initiative has ensured that our Native American youth reach their full potential, teaching them that their contributions are important to this country and that they too are worthy of achieving the American Dream. The White House Tribal Nations Conferences have given tribes what we have so desperately fought for- a seat at the table, a chance for our voices to be heard. I can visibly see and feel the differences in Indian Country in the seven years you have been in office, and for that I want to thank you.
You have managed to do for Native Americans what no president has done before, President Obama. You promised during that speech in Dallas that when you where in office, you wouldn't forget about us. Thank you for keeping your promise! I am so proud to call you my President. May the Creator continue to bless you and your family, and continue to bless the United States of America.
United States Citizen and Member of the Comanche Nation
I read the letter you wrote earlier this year, and it meant a lot that you took the time to send it. You’re right that I’ve worked pretty hard to fulfill my campaign promises—I’ve always believed that the success of our tribal communities is tied to the success of America as a whole, and it’s heartening to hear that my Administration’s efforts to build a true nation-to-nation relationship with tribes like yours have made a difference.
It sounds to me like you’ve been working hard to make a difference too, and I trust you take pride in how far you’ve come since your freshman year of college. It’s a tremendous privilege to serve as your President, but far more than my being in Office, I suspect it’s the passion and dedication of folks like you that have truly changed our country for the better.
Thank you for writing, and for everything you’ve put into reaching for the brighter future we all deserve. Voices like yours give me great hope for what’s to come, and I trust you’ll keep at it!
All the best,
We’ve come a long way together—but there’s still work to do for Indian Country and for all Americans. Let’s keep moving forward. Tune in to live coverage of the Tribal Nations Conference throughout the day today, including remarks by the President.