Obama Creates Native Council To Improve Dialoge with Indian Country

By:  Indian Country Today Media Network - Rob Capriccioso
Source: Indian Country Today Media Network

President Barack Obama, following the lead of at least three presidents  before him, established a White House Council on Native American Affairs on June  26.

The council is expected to oversee and coordinate the progress of federal  agencies on tribal programs and consultation with tribes across the federal  government.

“This policy is established as a means of promoting and sustaining prosperous  and resilient tribal communities,” Obama said in his executive order announcing  the Council. “Greater engagement and meaningful consultation with tribes is of  paramount importance in developing any policies affecting tribal nations.” (Related story: Obama  Establishes White House Council on Native American Affairs)

Jodi Gillette, Senior Policy Advisor for Native American Affairs with the  White House Domestic Policy Council, was direct in describing the need for the  Council during a press conference call on June 27. “We need to do more, and we  need to do it better,” she said. “Tribal leaders have told us we aren’t talking  to each other enough.”

The Council will have no financial powers—those still belong to the Office of  Management and Budget, which will continue to control how much money is spent on  Native programs throughout the federal government.

Secretary of the Department of the Interior Sally Jewell, who is designated  chair of the Council by the president, told attendees of a meeting of the  National Congress of American Indians in Nevada on June 27 that she would like  to have the ability to curb cuts to Indian programs. During a speech there, she  called sequestration “stupid,” and she noted that it has targeted tribal  programs that are supposed to be protected under the federal-tribal trust  relationship. She also wiped tears from her eyes when she said she realized the  depth of her commitment to Indian issues over Memorial Day Weekend.

Despite this budgetary limitation, the president’s move is being applauded by  tribal officials, including some involved with NCAI, who say that such a  development is overdue under the Obama administration to better organize its  response to Indian issues.

At the same time, some are concerned that this new Council is not currently  scheduled to have tribal seats, although the administration has promised to  consult with tribal leaders on issues the Council addresses.

Tex Hall, chairman of the Three Affiliated Tribes, has been pressing for the  creation of a Native American White House council based on the model established  under President Lyndon B. Johnson that would make tribes actual members of the  council and give the council stronger powers (including OMB and budget  powers).

Hall would especially like to see that model in place because OMB, earlier  this year, decided to sequester Native programs, despite the federal trust  responsibility to tribes. If the White House Native council had more budgetary  power, this problem could have been averted.

Officials involved in past presidential Native American councils have also  questioned why it took so long into Obama’s tenure to establish the Council  since similar to ones that have proven to be useful under past administrations,  including those of Presidents Johnson, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton.

Mike Anderson, an Indian affairs lawyers and past leader with the Clinton  Native-focused council, said that he suggested to White House officials and to  Indian affairs officials with the Department of the Interior during Obama’s  first term that a similar council be created as the one he successfully worked  on during the Clinton administration.

“[I’m] glad they are finally doing it,” Anderson said, adding that this group  could have pushed for the federal agencies complete tribal consultation policies  in compliance with the president’s request from 2009 that went unheeded by some  for years after his request.

Anderson said it would have also been helpful for the Treasury Department, in  particular, to hear perspectives on Indians during the president’s first term,  since that Department has had some recent tax dealings with tribes that continue  to perplex tribal leaders and citizens.

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), chair of the subcommittee on  Indian and Alaska Native Affairs in the House, is expressing concern that the  creation of the council is symbolic, and he fears it does not focus enough on  helping poverty-stricken tribes.

“This announced council is symbolic and a gesture rather than concrete  action,” said Young spokesman Michael Anderson (no relation to Indian affairs  lawyer Mike Anderson). “This is the phenomenon of government people creating a ‘blue ribbon panel’ to buy time so they can figure out how…to improve Indian  reservation economies.

“Indian country’s unemployment situation, from all appearances, has not  improved since Obama took office,” Anderson added. “If it has, we wouldn’t know  it because the Secretary of the Interior has failed to produce annually required  tribal labor reports. There are precious few job-producing non-government  projects the Obama administration has approved in Indian country.”

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), chair of the Senate Committee on Indian  Affairs, is much less critical of the Council and the president’s efforts. "This  council recognizes the unique government-to-government relationship that exists  between tribal governments and the federal government, and can help federal  agencies work more effectively with tribes all across the nation,” she told  Indian Country Today Media Network. “I look forward to working with Interior  Secretary Sally Jewell on innovative ways to strengthen tribal self-governance  and self-determination."

Some Obama administration officials say the creation of the Council is the  next step in the evolution of the president’s strong commitment to Indian  country.

“This announcement today is the next evolution of what is already a wonderful  approach toward Indian tribes,” Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs Kevin  Washburn said in a press conference call on June 27. “I am confident that this  will make the administration even more effective at working with tribes in the  future.”

Administration officials have not addressed why tribal officials were not  invited to hold positions on the Council, as has happened with past presidential  councils, nor why one wasn’t created sooner.

Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2013/06/27/obama-creates-native-council-improve-dialoge-indian-country-150162