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‘On your side’

WASHINGTON – In a sweeping effort to strengthen relations with tribes, President Barack Obama took to the podium of the Sydney R. Yates Auditorium at the Department of the Interior this morning.

He addressed hundreds of tribal leaders hailing from sovereign nations across the country who he invited to discuss their concerns.

“I’m on your side,” Obama told the audience before fielding several questions from tribal leaders.

“I know what it feels like to be forgotten. You will not be forgotten as long as I’m in this White House.”

The president later signed a memorandum instructing federal agencies to consult with tribes on a variety of policy matters that affect them. The executive order is significant because it gives a 90-day period for agency heads to respond.

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The event signified the fulfillment of a promise Obama made to Indian country during his presidential campaign.

“Today’s summit,” Obama said, “is not lip service. It is part of a lasting conversation.”

Jefferson Keel, newly elected president of the National Congress of American Indians, was the first to address Obama during a brief comment period.

“You have restored hope – not just by your words, but by your actions.”

The White House Tribal Nations Conference will continue throughout the day with several cabinet members scheduled to participate.