Obama to elevate Indian affairs - White House President will appoint adviser to work with tribes, first


Thomas Burr, The Salt Lake Tribune – http://www.sltrib.com/ci_11665643

Date of publication: 
5 March 2009

Washington – President Barack Obama will soon name a senior White House
adviser for tribal issues in a move that elevates the concerns of American
Indians to a higher point than previous administrations.

First Lady Michelle Obama told employees at the Interior Department on
Monday that American Indians have a “wonderful partner in the White House
right now,” and her husband plans to improve that relationship even more.

“He’ll soon appoint a policy adviser to his senior White House staff to
work with tribes and across the government on these issues such as
sovereignty, health care, education — all central to the well-being of
Native American families and the prosperity of tribes all across this
country,” the first lady said.

President Obama vowed on the campaign trail that he would name a senior
adviser to work as a liaison for American-Indians affairs, as well as hold
an annual summit at the White House with tribal leaders.

“Few have been ignored by Washington for as long as American Indians,”
Obama wrote last October in an American-Indian news outlet. “Too often,
Washington pays lip service to working with tribes while taking a
all approach with tribal communities across the nation.”

Previous administrations have named a liaison in their Intergovernmental
Affairs offices for Native Americans, though observers say this will be the
first such voice at such a high level overseeing tribal concerns.

A White House official said Monday filling the position is part of the
“staffing up process,” and may be formally announced in the next two weeks.

The nation’s 562 federally recognized tribes and Alaskan bands have been
waiting to see if Obama would follow through on his campaign promise,
according to George Hardeen, a spokesman for Navajo Nation President Joe
Shirley Jr. And Monday’s announcement was “great news” for those who have
been “hoping and praying” that the position would some day be created.

“For too long, tribes and their voices have been filtered out and have not
reached the highest levels of government,” Hardeen said. “And tribes have a
special government-to- government relationship with the federal government.
Tribal leaders have always felt that their concerns needed to be heard by the president of the United States.”

The Navajo Nation claims about 310,000 members in America, of which 8,000
reside in Utah, Hardeen says.

On the north end of the state, Bruce Parry, chairman of the Northwestern
Band of the Shoshoni Nation, said it will be good to finally have someone
to advocate for American Indians at the highest level of government.

“It’s one thing to have an assistant secretary in the Interior Department,
but to have someone in the White House who can spend time and energy
working on Indian issues is a great thing,” Parry said.

The Northwest Band has nearly 500 members in Utah.

In San Juan County, Mark Maryboy, a former county commissioner and Navajo
Tribal Council member, says it’s been difficult in the past to get those in
the highest levels of government to pay attention to American-Indian

“Native Americans are still struggling socially and economically and there
certainly needs to be a voice in the administration to help Native
Americans on and off the reservation with many, many issues,” Maryboy said.
“And I certainly hope that happens in the near future.”