Tribal Leaders Meet with Vice President Biden who Addresses Efforts to End Violence Against Women Attorney General Holder Announces Initiative on Indian Child Welfare Act

On March 8, 2013, President Barack Obama this morning signed into law the reauthorized Violence Against Women Act that includes tribal provisions.
On March 8, 2013, President Barack Obama this morning signed into law the reauthorized Violence Against Women Act that includes tribal provisions.
Press release, December 3, 2014, National Congress of American Indians
WASHINGTON, DC – Vice President Joe Biden joined over 300 tribal leaders at the sixth annual White House Tribal Nations Conference today. At the opening of the conference, Vice President Biden delivered an impassioned speech about violence against women in Indian Country saying “The most horrific prison on earth is the four walls of an abused woman’s home. For far too many Native American women that is a daily reality.”
The Vice-President, who was the original author of the Violence Against Women Act and has been its most steadfast supporter over the past 20 years, was introduced by Councilwoman
 from the Tulalip Tribes , “Vice President Biden has led the movement to protect women against rape and domestic violence.  Last year he helped pass the much needed protection to help Native women from violence.   Mr. Vice President, you are correct when you say no means no — no more abuse.” 
Referring to the provisions added to VAWA in 2013 that allow tribal governments to prosecute non-Indian domestic violence offenders in certain cases, the Vice-President apologized that it took so long to give tribal governments the tools to hold offenders accountable in their communities, saying “as long as there is a single place where the abuse of power is excused as a question of jurisdiction or tolerated as a family affair, no one is truly safe, and we cannot define ourselves as a society that is civilized.”
The Vice President delivered a call to action saying, “Tribal governments have an inherent right, as a matter of fact they have an obligation, to protect their people. All people deserve to live free of fear.”  He urged all tribal governments to be prepared on March 7 when the law goes into effect to use their authority to aggressively prosecute domestic violence offenders. He stressed the need to change the culture that too often leaves victims asking what they did wrong and instead to focus on sending a strong message that violence against women is always unacceptable.
Vice President Biden also acknowledged that we have much more to do to protect Native women from violence including giving Alaska tribes the same authority and expanding the provision to cover sexual assault and other crimes. Biden called on Congress to appropriate the $25 million in grants authorized in VAWA 2013 to implement the new law.  
Attorney General Eric Holder followed Vice President Biden, and strongly stated the Department of Justice’s commitment to improving law enforcement in Indian country, and to institutionalizing that commitment so that it will continue.  He announced that he has implemented a Statement of Principles to guide the Department’s work with tribal nations into the future.
Attorney General Holder also announced a new initiative to promote compliance with the Indian Child Welfare Act in partnership with the Departments of Interior and Health and Human Services.  Holder stated that the initiative is “working to actively identify state-court cases where the United States can file briefs opposing the unnecessary and illegal removal of Indian children from their families and their tribal communities.” Holder went on to explain that DOJ will work with its partners and tribes to “to promote tribes’ authority to make placement decisions affecting tribal children; to gather information about where the Indian Child Welfare Act is being systematically violated; and to take appropriate, targeted action to ensure that the next generation of great tribal leaders can grow up in homes that are not only safe and loving, but also suffused with the proud traditions of Indian cultures.”   

Secretary Jewell Stresses Self-Governance, Empowerment as Foundation for Successful, Culturally Vibrant Tribal Nations

Delivers Opening Remarks at White House Tribal Nations Conference; Highlights Trust Responsibilities, Educational Reform, Climate Adaptation
Press Release, U.S. Department of the Interior
WASHINGTON, DC – Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell today delivered opening remarks at the sixth White House Tribal Nation’s Conference, where she emphasized the Obama Administration’s commitment to Indian Country, including self-determination and self-governance initiatives that are helping tribal nations to build a foundation for a successful and culturally vibrant future.

“All of the work we are undertaking in partnership with tribes – whether on education, tackling climate change, or upholding trust reforms and treaty obligations – is with an eye toward the health and prosperity of the next generation,” said Secretary Jewell, who will also participate in panel discussions with tribal leaders on education and native youth, and climate change. “The White House Tribal Nations Conference is one piece of President Obama’s commitment to make meaningful and lasting progress in support of American Indians’ and Alaska Natives’ vision for a strong and successful future.”

The conference provides leaders from the 566 federally recognized tribes the opportunity to interact directly with President Obama, members of his Cabinet and other federal policy-level officials, building on the President’s commitment to strengthen our government-to-government relationship with Indian Country and to improve the livelihood of Native Americans. President Obama held the first-ever conference and has ensured that it will be an enduring, annual conference by Executive Order.

During this year’s conference, Jewell will discuss some of the progress made by the White House Council on Native American Affairs in advancing initiatives on educational reform, energy and economic development and climate change. 

The Council, which is chaired by Secretary Jewell and includes the heads of more than 20 federal departments and agencies, has convened four times since its inception in June 2013 and works to improve interagency coordination and expand efforts to leverage federal programs and resources available to tribal communities.

Under a Council initiative, Secretary Jewell and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, after consultation with tribal leaders, issued a Blueprint for Reform in June 2014 to redesign the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE). Building on the Blueprint’s recommendations, Jewell issued a Secretarial Order to begin restructuring BIE from solely a provider of education to a capacity-builder and education service-provider to tribes. The goal of this transformation is to give tribes the ability themselves to provide an academically rigorous and culturally appropriate education to their students, according to their needs.

“The heart of the matter is that no one cares more, or knows more about what’s right for young people, than their parents and their community,” said Jewell, who noted that the BIE recently awarded $1.2 million to tribes to promote tribal control of BIE-funded schools on their reservations

Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Kevin K. Washburn also participated in today’s Tribal Nation’s Conference where he joined panel sessions and reaffirmed the Obama Administration’s sacred duty to uphold federal trust responsibilities and help restore tribal homelands. 

“Each of the Administration’s successes is progress for tribes because tribal self-determination and self-governance animate each of our programs,” said Assistant Secretary Washburn. “Our programs cannot fully succeed unless Indian tribal governments also succeed.”

He noted Jewell’s second Secretarial Order focused on Indian Country and the Department’s tribal trust responsibilities – underscoring Interior’s commitment to a new chapter in government-to-government relations. The Order reaffirmed the Department’s unique, historic responsibilities and provided guidance for each of Interior agencies to carry out trust obligations to tribes and individual Indian beneficiaries.

Assistant Secretary Washburn also discussed the status of proposed changes to the Department’s federal acknowledgment regulations to improve efficiency and fairness in that process. 

Jewell underscored historic settlements and progress in restoring tribal homelands through land-into-trust and the Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations. In addition to the historic $3.4 billion Cobell settlement, the Administration has resolved more than 80 individual tribal trust management lawsuits for a total of $2.5 billion. The most recent settlement was announced in September and provided $554 million in settlement of long-standing trust disputes with the Navajo Nation, with some claims dating back more than 50 years. 

“Resolution of historic tribal trust cases and the Cobell litigation has allowed the Department to work with Indian country on rebuilding the trust relationship in a collaborative manner, outside the adversarial atmosphere of litigation,” noted Interior Solicitor Hilary Tompkins, who also participated in the conference.

In ongoing efforts to help restore tribal homelands, Interior has completed 282 cases so far this year, taking 40,339 acres into trust for Tribes. Since 2009, more than 280,408 acres have been taken into trust on behalf of tribes, more than half way toward the Department’s goal of 500,000 acres before the end of the President’s term. Indian Affairs has also been working on regulations that would allow the Department to take land into trust in Alaska. 

In addition, Interior has been carrying out the
Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations a program designed to buy highly fractionated land interests from willing American Indian sellers at fair market value and transfer consolidated titles to tribal governments for the beneficial use of their communities. In the last 12 months, the Program has made $754 million in offers to more than 44,000 individual landowners and restored the equivalent of more than 475,000 acres to tribes. The Department recently announced 21 additional locations where the Program will begin implementation, bringing the total number of locations actively engaged in the Buy-Back Program to 42. That total represents 83 percent of all outstanding fractionated ownership interests.  

Since assuming her role at Interior, Secretary Jewell has visited more than 20 tribal communities and half a dozen Bureau of Indian Education schools. Jewell also joined President Obama and the First lady on their historic visit to Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Nation earlier this year.

Indian Country Gearing Up for 2014 White House Tribal Nations Conference


This coming Wednesday December 3, President Barack Obama will be hosting the sixth annual White House Tribal Nations Conference in Washington D.C. In addition to leaders and representatives of the 566 federally recognized tribes who will be attending, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, Deputy Secretary Mike Connor and Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Kevin K. Washburn will join President Obama and other cabinet secretaries during the conference.

According to a U.S. Department of the Interior release, “Secretary Jewell will deliver remarks during the opening ceremony of the 6th annual conference and will join panel discussions on Indian education reform and climate change, along with other stakeholder meetings and briefings.”

Additionally, Connor will participate in discussions on protecting natural and cultural resources and Washburn will join sessions on government-to-government relations, economic development and upholding federal trust and treaty responsibilities.

Each year, the annual White House Tribal Nations Conference has provided tribal leaders the opportunity to interact with President Obama as well as with Secretary Jewell and members of the White House Council on Native American Affairs.

In an Executive Order establishing the White House Council on Native American Affairs in June 2013, President Barack Obama made the following assertions:

As we work together to forge a brighter future for all Americans, we cannot ignore a history of mistreatment and destructive policies that have hurt tribal communities. The United States seeks to continue restoring and healing relations with Native Americans and to strengthen its partnership with tribal governments; for our more recent history demonstrates that tribal self-determination – the ability of tribal governments to determine how to build and sustain their own communities – is necessary for successful and prospering communities. We further recognize that restoring tribal lands through appropriate means helps foster tribal self-determination.

This order establishes a national policy to ensure that the Federal Government engages in a true and lasting government-to-government relationship with federally recognized tribes in a more coordinated and effective manner, including by better carrying out its trust responsibilities. This policy is established as a means of promoting and sustaining prosperous and resilient tribal communities. Greater engagement and meaningful consultation with tribes is of paramount importance in developing any policies affecting tribal nations.

According to the Executive Order, the mission of the White House Council on Native American Affairs is to honor treaties, recognize tribal sovereignty and right to self-government in relation to such matters as promoting sustainable economic development, promoting greater control over health and health disparities, improved access to education and supporting tribal justice systems.

The Council which is chaired by Secretary Jewell has convened four times since 2013 and Secretary Jewell has visited over 20 Native communities. The Obama’s have also made efforts to reach out to Native communities including their historic visit to Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Nation earlier this year.

RELATED: Obama Reaffirms Commitment to Indian Country in Historic Visit

On Wednesday Secretary Jewell will offer her opening remarks at approximately 8:30 a.m. EST with additional panels on Energy and Climate Change at 2 p.m. EST and supporting Native Youth at 2:45 p.m. EST. President Obama is expected to offer closing remarks at the end of the day Wednesday.

This event will be livestreamed at



Native Leaders Air Concerns at White House Tribal Nations Conference

By: Rob Capriccioso, Indian  Country Today Media Network, November 14, 2013

The true potential of the Obama administration’s White House Tribal Nations Conference – now in its fifth year – was on display November 13 when tribal leaders were finally invited to publically criticize and question federal agency shortcomings on decisions affecting American Indian citizens.

At past conferences tribal leaders often felt frustrated that their concerns were only allowed to be offered behind closed doors and were sometimes limited to being in writing due to time constraints. Those realities led to less accountability and transparency from the administration on tribal matters, several leaders at this conference said, resulting in negative budget consequences for tribes and harm to tribal sovereignty.

Some tribal leaders have felt so stifled and controlled at previous Obama administration meetings that some who attended in the past chose not to attend this year. Edward Thomas, president of the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, said he was concerned this conference would turn into another “photo op and publicity staged event as opposed to one where we have the opportunity to tell [the president] directly that his team in not carrying out his promises to Native Americans,” so Thomas cancelled his plans to be there. Several tribal leaders have expressed distress to the administration about the costs of travelling to Washington, D.C. for events where Indian objectives receive little attention beyond lip service.

Tribal leaders say there have been very real consequences to the past tight administrative control of these conferences. American Indian nations have often been portrayed in mainstream press reports about these conferences as mindless cheerleaders of the administration’s policies, with their criticism left without widespread attention. The reality is that many Democratic tribal leaders are strongly supportive of the president and his team, but there is a wide divergence in the beliefs of even Democratic tribal leaders when it comes to how the administration has treated tribes.

Diane Enos, president of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, noted in a rare public question-and-answer session with agency officials this year that there is deep mistrust among Indian citizens of the federal government due to historical injustices, so it is “scary for tribal nations to be asked to cooperate with the federal government” even given an administration that has done some positive things for tribes, including achieving a stronger tribal Violence Against Women Act and a permanently reauthorized Indian Health Care Improvement Act.

RELATED: President Barack Obama’s VAWA Law Signing Spotlights Native Women Warriors

Throughout the day-long conference this year, both in closed sessions and in ones open to the press, tribal leaders pummeled administration officials with concerns, especially regarding a plan by the administration to cap contract support costs (CSC) reimbursements to tribes, despite Supreme Court rulings calling for reimbursement. Tribal leaders said the Departments of Health and Human Services and Interior have both shirked responsibility on paying CSC settlements owed to tribes. Beyond CSC, tribal leaders balked over lacking federal support for Indian education, initiatives by the IRS to unjustly tax tribes, and the administration’s support of budgetary sequestration on tribal money that is supposed to be protected as part of the trust and treaty responsibilities the federal government has committed to tribes.

RELATED: Sen. Begich Urges Obama’s Attention on Plan to Cheat Tribal Health Costs

“We need our trustee to be worthy of our trust,” Brian Cladoosby, newly elected President of the National Congress of American Indian and chairman of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, told agency officials sitting on the new White House Council on Native American Affairs at one point in the day. Other tribal leaders lamented publicly that the council needs an Indian-focused director to guide its often-unwieldy work, and they said they wished the council included Native Americans because it seems paternalistic that it does not.

RELATED: Brian Cladoosby Is President National Congress of American Indians

RELATED: Obama Creates Native Council To Improve Dialogue with Indian Country

If agency leaders were unaware that tribes have multiple problems with the administration’s decisions on tribal matters before the event, they were quite clear by the end of the day. “Today was some tough love, but families need to have those conversations,” Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy told tribal leaders after hearing their concerns throughout the early portion of the conference.

In response to tough budget and sequestration questions publicly raised by Juana Majel Dixon, a longtime leader with the Pauma Band, Cecilia Muñoz, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, said the next budget process is underway now, and “everybody has their eye on what’s happening in Indian country.” Dixon responded that Indian country needs to have a Native American leader at the Office of Management and Budget’s table in order to ensure that egregious errors like the CSC cap budget proposal do not happen again.

In all, over 300 tribal leaders, some elected and some leaders of tribal organizations, attended the conference, which President Barack Obama said in an afternoon speech was the most ever for this event.

Obama in the past has used the conference to personally present new tribal initiatives, including an executive order calling for increased agency consultation with tribes and one on Indian education. This year the major news from the president was that he planned to visit Indian country sometime in the next year. He has not visited a reservation since campaigning for president in 2008, which has disappointed many tribal citizens who feel he needs to see with his own eyes the plight of many Indian nations to fully understand the relief that is needed. White House spokesman Shin Inouye said “more details will be released at a later date” regarding the president’s planned trip.

Obama also said he was well aware of tribal concerns. “[T]here’s more we can do to return more control to your communities,” the president said in his speech, adding that he is urging Congress to reauthorize the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act and to pass a long-awaited Carcieri fix on land-into-trust issues.

RELATED: Obama: We Should Be Focused on the Work Ahead

“[W]e’ve heard loud and clear your frustrations when it comes to the problem of being fully reimbursed by the federal government for the contracted services you provide, so we’re going to keep working with you and Congress to find a solution,” the president said to major tribal applause. “That’s all going to be part of making sure that we’re respecting the nation-to-nation relationship.”

Tribal leaders at the conference generally said they were happy to hear the president is aware that all is not perfect on the federal-tribal relations front, and that he is willing to do more to right the wrongs.

“I recognize that no sitting United States president has ever reached out to Indian country like we have experienced since President Obama took office in 2008,” said Derek Bailey, who attended the meeting as a member of the National Advisory Council on Indian Education and as a representative of the Inter-Tribal Council of Michigan. “He has never swayed from his pledge to engage Indian country and our tribal leadership and to implement positive American Indian and Alaska Native policies that have been developed through tribal consultation and interaction.”



Obama Announces Fifth White House Tribal Nations Conference

Source: ICTMN

President Barack Obama recently announced the fifth White House Tribal Nations Conference this year will be held November 13 at the Department of Interior.

President Obama will host the conference that will give leaders from 566 federally recognized tribes the opportunity to interact directly with the president and members of the White House Council on Native American Affairs.

A representative from each of the 566 tribes will be invited to share their concerns and help improve the government-to-government relationship.

More details will be released at a later date.