Kicking off the White House Tribal Nations Conference this week with references to federal/tribal partnering on climate change impacts was perhaps an encouraging gesture by Department of Interior Secretary Jewell, but as Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians President Fawn Sharp remarked, American Indian tribes need more than gestures and promises.
Calling upon Obama to establish a formalized and permanent intergovernmental framework between the tribes and the United States to address revenue restoration and trust reform, Quinault Indian Nation President Sharp said it is time for the mistreatment and cheating of American Indians by the U.S. Government to stop. Noting that the United States was the last government in the world to sign the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, even then, Sharp says, the U.S. State Department denied UNDRIP provisions affirming the principle that Indigenous peoples must directly participate in developing policies and actions that affect their rights and interests.
As Sharp observed, Indians pay as much in taxes as they receive in federal payments under treaties and compacts, so the fact non-Indian US citizens receive 50 times the benefits that American Indian citizens receive means recent federal health and education cuts to tribes are topics to be raised at the September 2014 UN World Conference on Indigenous Peoples. According to a press release by the National Congress of American Indians, trust and treaty-breaking cuts and short funding of tribal contracts and compacts — by which tribes administer federal programs — demonstrate an utter failure of the federal government to uphold its commitments. Given that in 2009 President Obama celebrated his administration’s settlement of tribal mineral, oil and gas royalties — systematically stolen by the Department of Interior — for pennies on the dollar, tribal leaders probably shouldn’t get their hopes up that Obama will significantly shift the centuries old paradigm of cheating American Indians.
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