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The relationship has Improved
WINDOW ROCK, ARIZONA - Assistant Secretary for the US Department of the Interior on Indian Affairs traveled to the Navajo Nation to address the 22nd Navajo Nation Council for the start of its fall session last week.
Echo Hawk said he was appreciative of the opportunity to communicate on a nation-to-nation basis and was joined by Bureau of Indian Education Director Keith Moore and Bureau of Indian Affairs Director Mike Black.
"The Navajo Nation is the most significant tribal nation that we have in the United States, in terms of your membership, large land base and your treaty," Echo Hawk said.
Echo Hawk commended the Navajo Nation for providing leadership nationally and working on Indian Affairs issues like the tribal consultation policy, which benefitted all of Indian Country.
Echo Hawk said he has personal knowledge of the Navajo Nation since he was raised in Farmington, New Mexico.
"My father employed Navajo people. I feel like I have a very special bond with the Navajo people," stated Echo Hawk, who is an enrolled tribal member of the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma.
Echo Hawk said having Navajo employees in the federal government serving the needs of the Navajo people is crucially important.
He commended the work of Sharon Pinto, the newly appointed BIA Navajo Regional Office Director. He also praised the efforts of Dr. Charles "Monty" Roessel, who now serves as the Bureau of Indian Education's Associate Deputy Director for Navajo schools.
In the past 29 months, Echo Hawk said he has traveled to 43 states to see the conditions of Indian Country firsthand and to work with tribes on a nation-to-nation basis.
The relationship the federal government now has with Indian Country has improved significantly over previous administrations and Echo Hawk pointed to November 2009, when 564 tribes sent leadership to Washington DC to meet with President Barack Obama.
"At the end of the day, as (President Obama) looked out over these hundreds of tribal leaders, he said, 'I promise you, as long as I am President of the United States, you will not be forgotten,'" Echo Hawk said.
President Obama's executive order to improve the consultation process with tribes was decreed in December 2009, which not only pertained to Interior Indian Affairs, but all departments and agencies in the federal government.
The federal government is now in the 11th hour of releasing the final policy on the consultation process with tribes on a nation-to-nation basis.
Echo Hawk said one example of the consultation process with the Navajo Nation was the efforts with the Navajo Generating Station.
"Just recently, we received another letter from President Shelly calling for a formal government-to-government consultation because the EPA is about to make a significant decision," stated Echo Hawk.
Another critical priority for Indian Country and the nation is education.
Echo Hawk said he attended the groundbreaking and dedication of the Rough Rock Community School, which was the largest American Recovery and Reinvestment Act project from Interior Indian Affairs, funded in excess of $56 million.
"We have been able to either replace or do major repair on 28 Indian schools across the US because of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding," Echo Hawk said. "These dollars reached Indian Country."
"For generations, we as native people have lived in a deep recession or worse," he added.
While the nation cowers before the 9.1 percent unemployment rate, Indian Country has survived unemployment figures hovering around 85 percent in some native communities.
"Don't talk to us about recession. We're moving forward with education and it is the lynchpin on how we're going to make an advancement and achieve the kind of promise and prosperity that the First Americans deserve," Echo Hawk said.
One of those prosperities for native nations involves land into trust.
Echo Hawk called for the help and support of the Navajo Nation to come to the aid of Indian Country regarding a "clean Carcieri fix," in response to the contentious 2009 US Supreme Court ruling that has impeded land into trust for tribes.
"We need once again, the support, the strength of the Navajo Nation to speak up and help our brothers and sisters," Echo Hawk said.
Although the Navajo Nation does not have any issues at present time with land into trust, many tribes are wrestling with the opportunity to restore tribal homelands. Some tribes are even landless.
"We've been involved in the consultations that will lead to revised legislations of the BIA that have been on the books for more than 50 years with no change," Echo Hawk said.
He said in 2009, the Obama Administration was greeted with a stifling economic climate that had financial institutions on the verge of collapse, a plummeting stock market and sliding housing values.
Despite the abysmal realities of the nation's economy, Echo Hawk said President Obama added $183 million into the coffers of the Interior Indian Affairs.
The 3.4 percent increase was supported by Congress, and in 2010, the Obama Administration increased the funding to Indian Affairs by over 10 percent.
"The President of the United States and Congress made sure that Indians were included across Indian Country," Echo Hawk said. "Today, we have a split Congress and it's more difficult to get these budgets through."
posted October 27, 2011 6:50 am edt
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