This week, I hosted my eighth and final White House Tribal Nations Conference as President, a tradition we started in 2009 to create a platform for people across many tribes to be heard. It was a remarkable testament to how far we’ve come.
It was just eight years ago when I visited the Crow Nation in Montana and made a promise to Indian country to be a partner in a true nation-to-nation relationship, so that we could give all of our children the future they deserve.
With the help of so many individuals across the government and across the country, we made good on that promise. That’s not to say that we’ve solved every issue, or righted every wrong. But thanks to a strong and growing partnership between the federal government and tribal nations across the country, together, we’ve made significant progress.
We began by elevating Native American Affairs within the White House and across the federal government. By creating the White House Council of Native American Affairs, we instituted a Cabinet-level focus on Indian country that has involved tribal nations in the decision-making process on issues that give all of our leaders and youth the future they deserve.
We’ve restored nearly 470,000 acres of tribal homelands to their original owners. And by signing the historic Cobell settlement into law, we established the Land Buy-Back Program, a $1.9 billion fund to consolidate individual Indian lands and restore them to tribal trusts.
We’ve strengthened tribal sovereignty and protected women in Indian country by reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, so that tribes can prosecute those who commit domestic violence, whether they’re Native American or not. And we’ve also worked to protect equal justice under the law, giving more power to tribal courts and police.
We’ve created jobs and expanded opportunity by investing in clean energy projects, and the infrastructure that connects tribal communities to the broader economy. We’ve worked to secure quality, affordable health care for more people in Indian Country through the Affordable Care Act, including the permanent reauthorization of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act. And by investing in job training and tribal colleges and universities, we’re helping to prepare our young people to meet the demands of a global economy.
All the while, we’ve worked to return control of Indian education to tribal nations and incorporate their own history, language, and culture into their curriculum. Our Native youth deserve to both preserve their cultural heritage and secure a future as bright as any American child without having to leave the land of their fathers and mothers. That’s why through Generation Indigenous, we’ve worked to connect more of our young people to each other for more opportunities down the road.
But this progress doesn’t end with my presidency. We need to continue the conversation and stay focused on tackling the important challenges facing Indian country. True and lasting progress depends on all of us – not just whoever sits in the Oval Office, but also those who are willing to organize and mobilize, and keep pushing for justice and opportunity.
Our country has accomplished so much in the past eight years, and our tribal nations have been central to that progress. And I’m optimistic that we’re just getting started. Together, building on our strong nation-to-nation partnership, we can create a future worthy of the seven generations, where all of our children have a chance to make of their lives what they will.