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Obama: US must reverse course with Indians

Obama: US must reverse course with Indians

President Barack Obama is telling Native American tribal leaders he is determined to reverse the federal government's history of marginalizing and ignoring the plight of Indian nations.

From staff and wire reports

WASHINGTON President Obama pledged Thursday to redeem broken promises made to American Indians, saying he's empathetic because of his own history as an "outsider."

"Few have been more marginalized and ignored by Washington for as long as Native Americans, our first Americans," Obama said in opening the White House Tribal Nations Conference.

"I know what it means to feel ignored and forgotten, and what it means to struggle," he said. "So you will not be forgotten as long as I'm in this White House."

The administration invited representatives from the 564 federally recognized tribes to participate in the conference, the first White House meeting of its kind since 1994. Leaders from nearly 400 tribes attended. The event came as some American Indians are locked in a long-standing legal battle with the federal government over land royalties.

Obama said American Indians have a right to be suspicious of the government, recounting a history of broken promises and treaty violations. "You were told your lands, your religion, your cultures, your languages were not yours to keep," he said.

Obama said his administration has already helped Native Americans through the $787 billion stimulus package, which included $100 million for job creation within tribal communities, $500 million for the Indian Health Service, and nearly $500 million for various education, college and school construction programs.

The president told the tribal leaders he has made good on campaign promises to hold the summit and to give American Indians a voice in his administration. Among the Native Americans in key posts: Kimberly Teehee, a Cherokee, senior adviser for Indian issues, and Larry EchoHawk, assistant Interior secretary for Indian Affairs. EchoHawk is a member of the Pawnee tribe of Oklahoma.

Obama's efforts were received positively. "We respect you as a man of your word," said Jefferson Keel of the National Congress of American Indians.

The president signed an executive order requiring all Cabinet members to provide plans for consulting Indian tribes. He also pledged to consider Indian needs when moving forward on education and health care programs.

President Clinton issued a similar order about a decade ago, but Indian leaders said little was done to enforce it. They are more optimistic about Obama.

"It's truly a beginning," said Theresa Two Bulls, president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe in South Dakota. "I feel in my heart, there's going to be many more meetings like this."

Obama: US must reverse course with Indians