By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
President Obama officially established the White House Council on Native American Affairs on Wednesday, June 26. In an executive order establishing the Council, he states its purpose is “to promote and sustain prosperous and resilient Native American tribal governments”.
Membership on the Council will consist of the Secretary of the Interior serving as chair along with the heads of 30 government agencies such as the Department of Defense, Department of State, Department of Justice and others.
Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell formally announced the formation of the Council at NCAI’s Mid-Year Conference in Reno, Nev. on Thursday, June 27. “This Council is an important step in this Administration’s efforts to further strengthen its commitment to advancing tribal self-determination. The Council will help ensure that the federal family has regular and meaningful engagement on the key issues that impact Indian Country so that we can be more effective when it comes to supporting prosperous and resilient tribal communities.”
NCAI president Jefferson Keel praised the Council’s formation in a statement on June 26, “President Obama’s Executive Order represents a very strong step forward to strengthen our nation-to-nation relationship. The Council has been a top priority of tribal leaders from the earliest days of the Obama Administration. It will increase respect for the trust responsibility and facilitate the efficient delivery of government services.”
During a media teleconference on June 27, Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn said, “The Tribal Nations Conference was established four years ago. That was a really important evolution in federal policy towards American Indian tribes. This is the next step in that evolution.”
He added, “I think we are doing more for Indian Country than any administration ever has, but we need to communicate more.”
According to Assistant Secretary Washburn, the Council will have quarterly meetings with the cornerstone being the Tribal Nations Conference. Secretary Jewell related that the first Council meeting is scheduled for later this summer.
Jodi Gillette, senior policy advisor for Native American Affairs on the White House Domestic Policy Council, told reporters during the teleconference, “The President is firmly committed to building the nation-to-nation relationship and making that a cornerstone of how the administration deals with Indian tribes.”
She said communication is a key. “We need to do more. We need to do it better. At the end of the day, it’s really about supporting self-determination and self-governance because we know that’s what works.”
The mission of the Council has been outlined as follows, “The Council shall work across executive departments, agencies, and offices to coordinate development of policy recommendations to support tribal self-governance and improve the quality of life for Native Americans, and shall coordinate the United States Government’s engagement with tribal governments and their communities.”