Mary Annette Pember: Obama meets tribes in DC

"I noted that President Obama had a little trouble getting the last pen out of the box when he signed a presidential memorandum on tribal consultation during the Tribal Nations Conference at the Department of Interior this month. The memo, directing all federal agencies to submit detailed tribal consultation plans in the next 90 days, is similar to one signed by Bill Clinton 15 years ago. The Clinton memo drifted into obscurity during the waning years of his presidency, with very little follow up. President Obama, however, promised a cheering crowd including 400 tribal leaders that his administration would go far beyond “paying lip service” to American Indian tribes. “I get it,” he said. “I am on your side.”

Eleven tribal leaders got the chance to ask President Obama some direct questions following his opening remarks. The questions reflected the high regard Indians have for him but were tinged with a healthy skepticism. Ben Shelly, vice president of the Navajo Nation, wanted to know “What’s gonna happen to us at the end of your term?...I really don’t want to come back here and complain again about how we’ve been lied to.”

“What can you do to make some of these plans solid?” Shelly wanted to know.

President Obama really didn’t answer other to note that treaties are already supposed to be solid. (That might account for his trouble with the pen).

In holding the conference, Obama made good on his campaign promise to meet with tribal leaders during the first year of his presidency. Each of the 564 federally recognized tribes was invited to send one representative. Conveniently, the conference was held during November, Native American history month that was once again declared by way of the traditional presidential proclamation on October 30. Although it’s difficult to ignore the obvious political exploitation of the season, (when America thinks November and Thanksgiving, it thinks Indians), tribal leaders seemed cautiously hopeful."

Get the Story:
Mary Annette Pember: Obama Meets First Pledge to Tribes (The Daily Yonder 11/30

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