For 20 months now, I’ve traveled this country, often talking about how the needs of the American people are going unmet by Washington. And the truth is, few have been ignored by Washington for as long as American Indians. Too often, Washington pays lip service to working with tribes while taking a one-size-fits-all approach with tribal communities across the nation.
That will change if I am honored to serve as president of the United States.
My American Indian policy begins with creating a bond between an Obama administration and the tribal nations all across this country. We need more than just a government-to-government relationship; we need a nation-to-nation relationship, and I will make sure that tribal nations have a voice in the White House.
I’ll appoint an American Indian policy adviser to my senior White House staff to work with tribes, and host an annual summit at the White House with tribal leaders to come up with an agenda that works for tribal communities. That’s how we’ll make sure you have a seat at the table when important decisions are being made about your lives, about your nations and about your people. That’ll be a priority when I am president.
Here’s what else we’re going to do. We’re going to end nearly a century of mismanagement of the Indian trusts. We’re going to work together to settle unresolved cases, figure out how the trusts ought to operate and make sure that they’re being managed responsibly – today, tomorrow and always.
We need more than just a government-to-government relationship; we need a nation-to-nation relationship, and I will make sure that tribal nations have a voice in the White House.
Now, I understand the tragic history between the United States and tribal nations. Our government hasn’t always been honest and truthful in our dealings. And we’ve got to acknowledge that if we’re going to move forward in a fair and honest way.
Indian nations have never asked much of the United States – only for what was promised by the treaty obligations made to their forebears. So let me be absolutely clear – I believe treaty commitments are paramount law, and I will fulfill those commitments as president of the United States.
That means working with tribal governments to ensure that all American Indians receive affordable, accessible health care services. That’s why I’ve cosponsored the Indian Health Care Improvement Act in the U.S. Senate, and that’s why I’ve fought to ensure full funding of the IHS so that it has the resources it needs.
It also means guaranteeing a world-class education for all our children. I’ll work with tribal nations to reform No Child Left Behind and create opportunities for tribal citizens to become teachers so you can be free to educate your children the way you know best. We’ll increase funding for tribal colleges. And I will make Native language preservation and education a priority.
To give families in our tribal communities every chance to succeed in a 21st century economy, I will cut taxes for 95 percent of all workers, invest in job training and small business development, and put people back to work rebuilding our crumbling roads, schools and bridges.
And I will never forget the service and sacrifice that generations of American Indians have given to this country. We have to keep our sacred trust with Indian veterans by making sure that no veteran falls into homelessness, and that all our veterans get the benefits and support they have earned.
Let me just close by saying this. I was born to a teenage mother. My father left when I was 2 years old, so I never knew him well. I was raised in Hawaii by a single mother and my grandparents, and we didn’t have a lot of money – we even turned to food stamps at one point just to get by.
Where I grew up, there weren’t many black families. So I know what it feels like to be viewed as an outsider. I know what it’s like to not always have been respected or to have been ignored. I know what it’s like to struggle.
Every president is shaped by his own experience. These have been mine. And so I want you to know that I will never forget you. The American Indians I have met across this country will be on my mind each day that I am in the White House. You deserve a president who is committed to being a full partner with you; to respecting you, honoring you and working with you every day. That is the commitment I will make to you as president of the United States.
Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois is the Democratic candidate for president.