President Barack Obama today promised to put an end to the US government’s 200-year history of neglect and broken promises towards the country’s Indian tribes. Barack Obama has signed a memorandum for closer consultation between Native America tribes and the US government.
Addressing representatives from more than 400 federally recognised Indian tribes – several of whom wore elaborate feather headresses, he said: “I know what it means to feel ignored and forgotten, and what it means to struggle. So you will not be forgotten as long as I’m in this White House.”
Noting that some reservations have 80% unemployment and that a quarter of Native Americans live in poverty, Obama signed a memorandum directing government agencies to consult and collaborate with the tribes. He described the gathering as the largest gathering of tribal leaders in US history.
While Native Americans have made gains in recent years thanks to legalised casino gambling on tribal lands, many continue to live in abject poverty on vast reservations, cut off from mainstream American society. Indians represent about 1% of the US population, mainly concentrated in the western states.
During the presidential campaign, Obama was named an honorary member of the Crow nation in the state of Montana, who named him “One who helps people throughout the land”. He pledged to appoint an Indian policy adviser to the senior White House staff, hold annual summits with tribal leaders, and said Indians would have “a seat at the table when important decisions are being made about your lives”.
He has since appointed a member of the Cherokee nation as an adviser on Indian issues and a member of the Rosebud Sioux tribe to head the Indian health service, a first.
Obama and the Democrats also allocated more than $3bn in stimulus funds to tribal communities, much of it for school improvement.
During a question-and-answer session, tribal leaders asked for help with environmental cleanup, landless tribes, off-shore drilling and other needs.