Councilwoman Juana Majel-Nixon of the Pauma Band of Mission Indians, right, wears a decorative hair clip during a meeting between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama is making good on a campaign promise to have a yearly summit with American Indians to hear their concerns.
Obama is to deliver opening and closing remarks Thursday for the meeting of members of his Cabinet and tribal leaders, the first such event since 1994. Officials planned to discuss problems facing American Indians, including economic development, education, health care, public safety and housing.
“This is an opportunity for tribal leaders to interact directly with the president, and we all know working in this area that there are so many difficult and monumental issues which face Indian nations throughout our country. And frankly, the last administration did not pay any attention to these issues,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said.
During the Democratic primary, Obama traveled to Indian reservations and promised health care improvements.
“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,” Obama said in a video address to the National Congress of American Indians’ convention in Phoenix during the final days of last year’s campaign. “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.”
He made good on that pledge, creating a new post within the White House. He appointed Kimberly Teehee to serve as senior policy adviser for Native American affairs within the Domestic Policy Council. Teehee, a member of the Cherokee Nation, previously served as an aide to Rep. Dale Kildee, D-Mich., and worked for the Democratic National Committee.
He also tapped Dr. Yevette Roubideaux to serve as director of the Indian Health Service within the Department of Health and Human Services, making her the first American Indian to head the federal agency since its founding in 1955. Roubideaux, a member of the Rosebud Sioux tribe, worked for IHS on the San Carlos Indian Reservation and in the Gila River Indian community.
Thursday’s event is an opportunity for the administration to tout its $787 billion economic stimulus bill. Some $3 billion of the economic stimulus funding was directed to tribal communities and Obama has sought budget increases for Indian health care and programs run by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, officials said. They hope to develop a list of steps the administration and tribes can take to improve the quality of life on reservations.
“We won’t be able to wave a magic wand and resolve all of the issues,” Salazar said, “but it is a great foundation for the work that lies ahead.”
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.