WASHINGTON – President Obama and thirteen members of his Cabinet joined over 300 tribal leaders at the fifth annual White House Tribal Nations Conference. Through speeches and listening sessions, the Administration highlighted the improving partnership with tribal nations and declared a commitment to elevating the relationship throughout the next three years.
The Conference included a townhall portion during which tribal leaders asked questions of several members of the White House Council on Native American Affairs. In the townhall’s opening statement, National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) President Brian Cladoosby firmly asserted the need to establish a “trust relationship for the 21st century” and urged the Council to regularly convene cabinet officials and tribal leaders at the White House and throughout Indian Country. Other tribal leaders emphasized the importance of addressing the Carcieri Supreme Court decision, fully funding Contract Support Costs, and honoring the trust responsibility in the federal budget.
In afternoon remarks to tribal leaders, President Barack Obama committed to visiting Indian Country next year and echoed Cladoosby’s call for close communication between the nations:
“The Iroquois called their network of alliances with other tribes and European nations a ‘covenant chain.’ Each link represented a bond of peace and friendship. But that covenant chain didn’t sustain itself. It needed constant care, so that it would stay strong. And that’s what we’re called to do, to keep the covenant between us for this generation and for future generations.”
Attorney General Eric Holder also delivered poignant remarks as he recommitted to a close partnership with tribal nations and spoke of the progress made since Robert Kennedy’s address to NCAI in 1963. AG Holder acknowledged the “injustice inflicted on Native peoples” in the past and committed to a relationship “not as a patron but a partner.” NCAI welcomes AG Holder’s proposed “Statement of Principles” that will guide the Department of Justice’s dealings with Indian Country.
NCAI looks forward to working with the White House to strengthen the nation-to-nation relationship and continuing the policy conversations begun during the Conference. The full list of Cabinet officials participating in the White House meeting included:
Attorney General Eric Holder
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius
Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan
Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx
Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz
Education Secretary Arne Duncan
Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy
Acting Homeland Security Secretary Rand Beers
Acting Small Business Administrator Jeanne Hulit
Council on Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley
Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council Cecilia Muñoz