Blog Posts Related to the Native American Community

  • Working with Tribal Nations to Build a Brighter Future

    At the second White House Tribal Nations Conference on December 16, 2010, President Obama, numerous Cabinet Secretaries, and many senior Administration officials met with tribal leaders to continue delivering on the President’s commitment to ensure that tribal nations are full partners with his administration. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar delivered the opening remarks, laying out challenges facing the partnership between President Obama and Indian Country and emphasizing presidential initiatives in five main areas: (1) restoring tribal homelands; (2) building safer Native communities; (3) building strong, prosperous tribal economies; (4) fostering healthy communities; and (5) developing a structured and meaningful consultation policy.

    President Obama also addressed the conference.  He highlighted the progress made in the nation-to-nation dialogue since last year’s White House Tribal Nations Conference, while also acknowledging that a great deal of work remains to be done in Indian country. The President emphasized the importance of improving tribal economies and increasing the number of jobs in Indian country by investing in infrastructure, expanding access to high-speed internet, and developing clean energy initiatives.  President Obama also underscored the need to continue building on advances in health care and education.  He said that addressing health disparities in Indian country was “not just a question of policy, it’s a question of our values; it’s a test of who we are as a nation.”

  • Kicking Off the White House Tribal Nations Conference

    Ed. Note: Learn more about the new Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs being announced from the Department of Energy's blog.

    Download Video: mp4 (143MB) | mp3 (9MB)

    This morning we kicked off the White House Tribal Nations Conference, a gathering that is a testament to President Obama's respect for the inherent sovereignty of Indian nations and determination to honor the Nation's commitments to American Indian and Alaska Native communities.

    President Obama is hosting the conference here at the Department of the Interior - the second he has convened since taking office - and delivered keynote remarks to leaders of the 565 federally recognized tribes in the United States.  Members of the President's cabinet and other high-ranking Administration officials will be participating in a series of breakout sessions with tribal leaders, discussing a wide range of social, economic and political challenges facing Indian Country.   It is rare that so many of us are in one place at the same time and it speaks to President Obama's high-level engagement with and commitment to Indian Country.

    A little over a year ago - at the first-ever White House Tribal Nations Conference - President Obama pledged that we would work with American Indian leaders to fulfill our trust responsibilities, to empower tribal governments and to help build safer, stronger and more prosperous tribal communities.

    While we have made great progress on these fronts, there is much work to be done - by all of us.  It is my hope that today provides a venue through which to continue a candid and honest dialogue between and among nations as we develop a comprehensive agenda to reform, restructure and rebuild federal relations with Indian Country. 

    Together we are building a solid foundation for a bright, prosperous and more fulfilling future for the First Americans.

    A Navajo Code Talker from WWII Listens to President Barack Obama at the Tribal Nations Conference

    A Navajo Code Talker from WWII and others in the audience listen as President Barack Obama delivers remarks during the opening session of the Tribal Nations Conference at the U.S. Department of Interior in Washington, D.C. December 16, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

  • President Obama Signs the Claims Resolution Act of 2010

    It was a long time coming, but today the President signed the Claims Resolution Act of 2010.  Secretary Vilsack recently addressed the Pigford II Settlement and Secretary Salazar address the Cobell Settlement, the two main parts of the legislation.  The President released the following statement afterwards:

    Statement by the President on H.R. 4783

                Today I have signed into law H.R. 4783, the "Claims Resolution Act of 2010."  This Act, among other things, provides funding and statutory authorities for the settlement agreements reached in the Cobell lawsuit, brought by Native Americans; the Pigford II lawsuit, brought by African American farmers; and four separate water rights suits, brought by Native American tribes.  While I am pleased that this Act reflects important progress, much work remains to be done to address other claims of past discrimination made by women and Hispanic farmers against the Department of Agriculture as well as to address needs of tribal communities.

                I am also pleased that the Act includes authorities proposed by my Administration concerning Unemployment Compensation program integrity, to expand the ability of the Federal Government to recover from individual income tax overpayments certain Unemployment Compensation debts that are due to an individual's failure to report earnings.  My Administration has been working to protect taxpayer funds through improved recovery of improper Federal payments, and the additional authorities in this Act will assist in that effort.  In order to ensure that the intent and effect of these program integrity provisions are realized, my Administration is working with the Congress to correct an inadvertent technical drafting error in section 801(a)(3)(C), so that the provision can be implemented as intended.

                                                                            BARACK OBAMA


        December 8, 2010.

    President Barack Obama Signs the Claims Resolution Act Bill of 2010

    President Barack Obama joined by Members of Congress and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, and Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr., signs the Claims Resolution Act Bill of 2010 in the South Court Auditorium of the White House Dec. 8, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

  • Fulfilling Our Promise in Indian Country

    Two years ago, President Barack Obama vowed that this administration would work with Native Americans to empower tribal governments, fulfill our trust responsibilities to tribal members and help tribal leaders build safer, stronger, healthier and more prosperous communities.

    Today we took a giant step toward fulfilling that promise with Congressional approval of five major settlements for Indian country that are nothing short of historic.

  • President Signs Tribal Law and Order Act

    Introducing President Obama as he signed the Tribal Law and Order Act, Lisa Iyotte  bravely told her story about how she was brutally raped on her reservation and how her assailant, though later caught, was never prosecuted for his crimes against her. Right now, crime rates in Indian Country are more than twice the national average – up to twenty times the national average on some reservations.  Native American women suffer from violent crime at a rate three and a half times greater than the national average.  Astoundingly, one in three Native women will be raped within their lifetimes.

    As Lisa recounted her tragic ordeal, there were moments where she seemed unable to speak – until the President came out and stood by her as she spoke.  In his remarks, he  called these  statistics “an assault on our national conscience and an affront to our shared humanity.” He went on to say that he signed the Tribal Law and Order Act into law “for every survivor like Lisa, who’s never gotten their day in court; for every family that feels like justice is beyond their reach; and for every tribal community struggling to keep its people safe.”

    The Tribal Law and Order Act will help address crime in Indian Country and places a strong emphasis on decreasing violence against women in tribal communities. The Act provides more law enforcement officers for Indian lands and equips them with more crime-fighting resources.  Specifically, the Act will:

    • Require the DOJ to disclose data on cases it declines to prosecute;
    • Enhance tribes’ authority to prosecute and punish criminals themselves;
    • Expand efforts to recruit, train and keep BIA and Tribal officers;
    • Provide BIA and Tribal officers with greater access to better criminal databases;
    • Strengthen Tribal courts;
    • Supply new training and guidelines for handling sex crimes and domestic violence, providing victims with better counseling and boosting conviction rates through better evidence collection; and
    • Enhance prevention programs, helping combat alcohol and drug abuse and help at-risk youth.

    You can watch a video of the bill signing, and you can read more about how this Act will benefit Native American women, by visiting this post by Lynn Rosenthal, the White House Advisor on Violence Against Women.

    Jodi Gillette is the Associate Director in the White House Office of Public Engagement, Associate Director in the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, and she is an enrolled member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

  • The Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010: A Step Forward for Native Women

    Ed. Note: We encourage readers to watch the video of the signing, including the moving introduction from Lisa Marie Iyotte.

    Read the Transcript  |  Download Video: mp4 (140MB) | mp3 (13MB)

    The President just signed the Tribal Law and Order Act -- an important step to help the Federal Government better address the unique public safety challenges that confront tribal communities.

    According to a Department of Justice report, Native American women suffer from violent crime at a rate three and a half times greater than the national average. Astoundingly, one in three Native American women will be raped in their lifetimes. At the White House Tribal Nations Conference in November 2009, President Obama stated that this shocking figure "is an assault on our national conscience that we can no longer ignore."

    Last week, Congress took another important step to improve the lives of Native American women by passing the Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010. The Act includes a strong emphasis on decreasing violence against women in Native communities, and is one of many steps this Administration strongly supports to address the challenges faced by Native women.

  • Together We Must Face the Challenge of HIV/AIDS in Native American Communities

    March 20, 2010 is the fourth annual National Native HIV/AIDS Awareness Day.  It is a day to renew our commitment to fighting HIV/AIDS and to challenge the stigma surrounding the disease by increasing awareness of the risk factors for infection.  I know that many people are uncomfortable talking about HIV and AIDS, but progress in the fight against HIV/AIDS depends on our knowing the basic facts about transmission as well as on increasing American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) access to HIV testing and comprehensive health services. 

    Even though AI/AN HIV/AIDS cases comprise less than 1 percent of total cases in the U.S., AI/AN communities are disproportionately impacted by the disease.  American Indians and Alaska Natives have a 40% higher rate of AIDS than non-Hispanic white Americans, and the AIDS rate among Native women is 2.8 times that of non-Hispanic white women.  AI/AN communities experience significant health disparities and face high rates of substance abuse and sexually transmitted infections, which increase the risk of HIV transmission.  Additionally, many American Indians and Alaska Natives, like other Americans, do not know that they are infected and are therefore more likely to spread the disease.  Together, we must continue to expand access to confidential testing in both urban and rural areas.  As a Nation and within our Indian health system, our promotion of routine HIV screening combined with AI/AN community acceptance is helping to reduce stigma and confidentiality concerns.

    To be effective, HIV/AIDS prevention programs must also be culturally sensitive.  Current programs in Indian Country, therefore, are focusing on traditional teachings and the importance of community.  The Phoenix Indian Medical Center, Gallup Indian Medical Center and Alaska Native Medical Center are just a few examples of comprehensive HIV/AIDS programs involving HIV prevention programs and treatment and care services.  Smaller service units and urban facilities such as Pine Ridge, SD and South Dakota Urban Indian Health are also expanding HIV testing services and experiencing positive community acceptance - a much needed effect to help reduce stigma surrounding HIV. 

    In addition to increasing the availability of culturally sensitive HIV testing and prevention programs in rural communities, we must work to overcome the barriers keeping American Indians and Alaska Natives from obtaining needed care and treatment.  Towards that effort, the Indigenous HIV/AIDS Research Training (IHART) program, designed specifically for Indigenous and other underrepresented ethnic minority (UREM) scholars, mentors and trains AI/AN and UREM scholars to design culturally grounded research that will contribute to ameliorating health disparities among American Indians and Alaska Natives in the areas of HIV/AIDS, other sexually transmitted infections, and mental health.  The IHART program nurtures the grant making skills of AI/AN tribal, community, and university-based scholars and incorporates culturally specific Native epistemologies, methodologies, and research protocols.  Increasing the ranks of AI/AN and UREM scientists conducting culturally grounded research will generate information that can guide effective future prevention and intervention programs.

    The White House Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP) is also joining the fight against the epidemic.  ONAP is currently developing a National HIV/AIDS Strategy with input from the public and from agency partners, including the Indian Health Service, to more effectively address the epidemic.  Participation from stakeholders, including tribal leaders, will be necessary to ensure that all affected populations benefit from the implementation of the National Strategy.  Together we must confront the high rates of poverty, drug use, mental health issues, high-risk sexual behaviors, and violence, which increase the risk of HIV transmission and limit individuals’ ability to access services.

    Raising awareness about HIV/AIDS is only the first step in overcoming this public health crisis.  Today, we honor the efforts of those working to improve the lives of AI/AN people living with HIV/AIDS, including the dedicated staff at IHS, tribal, and urban Indian health facilities. 

    As we move forward, it is important that we continue to empower AI/AN communities in rural and urban areas to reduce new infections and increase the availability and accessibility of culturally competent care.

    Kimberly Teehee is Senior Policy Advisor of Native American Affairs for the White House Domestic Policy Council

  • For Native American Women, a Triumph of Justice

    All Americans should be heartened by the recent announcement that the Department of Justice, under the leadership of Attorney General Eric Holder, is strengthening its commitment to fighting crimes of violence against Native American women.

    As part of broader DOJ reforms to dramatically improve public safety in tribal communities, the Attorney General recognized that though there is no "quick fix," we "must continue our efforts with federal, state, and tribal partners to identify solutions to the challenges we face."  After holding listening sessions with tribal leaders across the nation, he directed all 44 U.S. Attorneys' Offices with federally recognized tribes in their districts to reinvigorate efforts to combat and prosecute violent crime, particularly against women and children. And he announced an additional $6 million to hire Assistant United States Attorneys—and additional victim specialists—to assist with the ever-growing Indian Country caseload.

    After all, for Native American women, even "challenges" may be an understatement. On some reservations, violent crime is more than twenty times the national average—but women tend to suffer most. Some tribes face murder rates against Native American women of more than ten times the national average. And tribal leaders say there are countless more victims of domestic violence and sexual assault whose stories may never be told. As President Obama put it at the White House Tribal Nations Conference on November 5, "the shocking and contemptible fact that one in three Native American women will be raped in their lifetimes is an assault on our national conscience that we can no longer ignore."

    The White House strongly supports efforts to strengthen the capability of law enforcement to address public safety needs on reservations, including the announced Justice Department reforms and the Tribal Law and Order Act. That's why at the Tribal Nations Conference, he commended Attorney General Holder for his efforts to ensure greater safety in tribal communities and thanked Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Chairman Byron Dorgan and Representative Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin for their leadership on this important issue.

    In his memorandum to U.S. Attorneys, Deputy Attorney General David Ogden explained why the federal government has a responsibility to address the endemic pattern of abuse, assault, and other violence that reservations across the United States face every day. Our unique legal relationship with Native American tribes mandates it. And the 1994 Violence Against Women Act authored by Vice President Biden calls for it. But our national conscience also demands justice.

    Only now, we can finally come to expect it, too.

    Lynn Rosenthal is the White House Advisor on Violence Against Women