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Better Policy for Self-Governing and Prosperous Tribal Nations

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Concerning the White House Council on Native American Affairs: On behalf of the Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Association and the Council of Large Tribes, “Thank you President Obama.”

Thank you, Mr. President for answering the call of Indian nations to establish the White House Council on Native American Affairs through Executive Order. On June 26, 2013, the Obama Executive Order declared that “Honoring” the United States’ government-to-government relationship, and unique political relationship, with Indian tribes “and respecting the sovereignty of tribal nations is critical to advancing tribal self-determination and prosperity.”

President Obama established the White House Council on Native American Affairs “to promote and sustain prosperous and resilient Native American tribal governments.” The Secretary of the Interior will chair the White House Council, which will be composed of Cabinet Secretaries, Agency Heads and their delegates from:

• The Departments of State, Treasury, Defense, Justice, Agriculture, Commerce, Labor, HHS, HUD, Transportation, Energy, Education, VA, Homeland Security; and
• The Social Security Administration, OPM, USTR, OMB, EPA, SBA, the Council of Economic Advisers, ONDCP, the Domestic Policy Council, the National Economic Council, OSTP, CEQ, and the White House Office of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs, among others.

The White House Council will meet with Indian nations and tribes, “work across executive departments, agencies, and offices to coordinate the development of policy recommendations to support tribal self-governance and improve the quality of life for Native Americans,” and coordinate the Federal Government’s engagement with Indian nations and tribes.

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From the Great Plains and Council of Large Tribes, we will be pleased to engage with Secretary Jewell and the new White House Council. Our Indian nations and tribes want to promote:
• The authority of Indian nations and tribes over our tribal government programs and services, free from unwarranted intrusion by the IRS;
• The authority of Indian nations and tribes over our lands, natural resources and tribal economies;
• Education, health, strong justice systems, and essential infrastructure;
• Treaty rights, including self-governance, economic self-sufficiency, and a Federal Government commitment to appropriately fund Federal treaty obligations; and
• Intertribal trade and commerce, International indigenous trade and commerce, and free trade zones for Indian country.

It is time for Indian nations and tribes to join hands across the United States to improve the quality of life for our tribal communities and Native American people. It is time for the Federal Government to be a viable partner with us, consistent with the Federal trust responsibility.

Mr. President, thank you for recognizing that the United States’ “history of mistreatment and destructive policies have hurt our communities.” In 2009, under the leadership of our good friends Senator Dan Inouye, Byron Dorgan, Dan Akaka and Sam Brownback, Congress issued the Apology to Native Americans. As Native people, it is fitting for us to remember the battles, struggles and travails that our grandfathers and grandmothers endured to secure our heritage, our sovereignty, and our lands. Our Native American peoples have long suffered.

Now, it is time to move forward. As Indian nations and tribes, we look forward to our positive engagement to lift Indian nations and tribes out of the economic distress that we have faced since General Sherman destroyed our buffalo herds.

Prosperous, resilient, and sustainable Tribal Nations—it sounds like President Obama has announced the 21st Century Policy for Indian country.

Tex Hall is chairman of the Mandan, Hidatsa & Arikara Nation.