The Place to Start
This year’s White House Tribal Nations Conference, also known as the White House Tribal Nations Summit 2012, will be held on Wednesday December 5. Hosting delegates from each of the 566 federally-recognized tribes in the United States, the Obama Administration will meet with American Indian leaders to discuss their priorities for President Obama’s second term . Those priorities include trust reform, taxation and law enforcement, as well as budget allocations for the Indian Health Service and Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Joining tribal leaders and the National Congress of American Indians in preparing for this important conference are regional organizations like the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians and the United South and Eastern Tribes.
In 2011, United South and Eastern Tribes president Brian Patterson said the federally-recognized Indian tribes in the US must challenge the plenary power of Congress in order to fulfill the promise of the nation-to-nation relationship embedded in the US Constitution and Indian treaties. Backed by the National Congress of American Indians, USET, said Patterson, plans to make sovereignty and self-determination genuine, ending the two centuries of federal trust mismanagement of Indian lands and resources that has forced the tribes to spend enormous amounts on lawyers and litigation.
With the 2010 covenant of friendship, cooperation, solidarity and trust signed between USET and ATNI, these regional players are now positioned to reform the federal trust responsibility, as well as push the US Government toward implementation of the 2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. As I noted in my October 2 editorial Lesson in Civic Courage, tribes like the Quinault Indian Nation — led by ATNI president Fawn Sharp — are fighting racially discriminatory federal rules that undermine tribal cultural health and well-being.
As I observed in my September 13 editorial Unfair Dealing, trust mismanagement and punitive taxation have caused enormous suffering in American Indian communities. If the Obama Administration wants to go down in history as a true friend of Indian country, this is the place to start.