Levi Rickert, editor-in-chief in Native Condition. Discussion »
The Fourth Annual White House Tribal Nations conference concluded this week in our nation's capital. Each year since the President Obama has occupied the presidency, the White House has rolled out changes that directly impact the government to government relationships between the federal government and tribal governments in Indian country.
President Obama Addressing the White House
Tribal Nations conference
Tribal leaders who were in Washington DC applauded the efforts of President Obama and his administration because tribal nations have not had this much attention given in such concentration since President Richard Nixon rolled out self determination for tribal nations. No other group in America has had as many cabinet members attend a single conference as did this conference, according to a source within the Department of the Interior.
Even with all this attention afforded to tribal leaders, the average American Indian does not know what this conference means to them. The White House Tribal Nations conference was filled with updates and upcoming changes in federal policies.
Policies are sometimes difficult to understand until they direct someone personally. Just as life insurance policies are thick documents with a whole lot of legal jargon that appear to be meaningless until you need to access funds through the death benefit of the policy, so too are many federal policies that have been rolled out in Indian country.
So, to many American Indians living across the United States, the White House Tribal Nations conferences appear to be meaningless or simply public relations shows put on by the federal government.
This is particularly true to American Indians who live in urban settings with no daily contact with their tribes or to those urban Indians who because of tribal policies cannot even claim citizenship within their own tribe. Often, simply because some paperwork was not properly filled out when tribal enrollment was still open. We all know some American Indian with this non-enrolled status.
According to the 2010 US Census, 78 percent of American Indians live away from tribal lands. Yet, federal policies appear to continue to be geared to tribes and tribal lands.
To these, the White House tribal nations conferences are simply symbolic gestures by President Obama. Many of the changes appear to have little meaning to the average American Indian or Alaska Native who are still left with no jobs, poor health, overcrowded housing and problems on top of problems.
While those who truly understand the inner workings of government will understand President Obama and his administration have really sought to rectify many ills within the federal government, the average American Indian may not see it.
To many American Indians that the federal government really has not known what to do with American Indians since the inception of the United States on Turtle Island. It appears President Obama gets this.
He can be complimented for attempting to better understand how to improve on two centuries of mistreatment of American Indians.
The President should show up on an Indian reservation. He mentioned the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in his speech to tribal leaders on Wednesday. He should go there to see for himself the third world living conditions that exist in one of the poorest parts of the country.
The President should sign the United Nations Declaration for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Two years ago, he verbally endorsed it at the Second White House Tribal Nations conference. It is time, he signs it.
Lastly, the President owes it to American Indians to FREE Leonard Peltier through executive clemency. Peltier is considered a political prisoner. It is time.
While all the things his administration have done to correct the ills of the past within government red tape (I call it white tape), President Obama needs to reach out with real tangible actions that the average grassroots American Indian can see and feel.
updated 11:30 am est; posted December 8, 2012 9:20 am est