RENO, Nev. - A new White House Council for Native American Affairs will work to promote sustainable economic development, support greater access to and control over healthcare, improve the effectiveness and efficiency of tribal justice systems, expand educational opportunities for Native American youth and protect and support the sustainable management of Native American lands, environments and natural resources.
On a conference call to reporters, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced an executive order establishing the council signed by President Barack Obama on June 26.
"This commitment is rooted in the recognition that a true and lasting government-to-government relationship starts with respecting the inherent sovereignty of tribes," Jewell said.
During her first appearance as secretary of the interior at the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) conference in Reno, Jewell was emotional when she discussed the federal government responsibility to Native American tribes.
"The federal government does not have a proud legacy when it comes to upholding our promises," said Jewell. "I can't reverse all of that in a four-year period of time, but I can make important progress."
Jewell also emphasized the importance of education to Native American tribes. She said education can lift Indian children into the future but that it needs to be culturally appropriate and that tribes must have their say in how that education is directed.
The council will meet a minimum of three times a year to advance issues and will ensure that meaningful meetings between tribal officials from federally recognized tribes and high-level cabinet members happen throughout the year. The order makes the White House tribal nation's conference an annual event.
"This executive order ensures that the President and his team continue to meet directly with tribal leaders every year and that is a great thing," Jewell said. "My North Star in supporting you will be promoting tribal self-governance and self-determination, recognizing the inherent right of tribal governments to make your own decisions. You know better than any of us do what you need in your tribes and communities."
"[We] appreciate and value the leadership, commitment and efforts of President Obama to improve the delivery of services and use of resources available to all tribal communities," said Valerie Spicer, executive director of the Arizona Gaming Association, adding that the organization is committed to advancing the lives of Indian people so that tribes in Arizona can reach their goals of self-reliance.
The first meeting of the White House Council on Native American Affairs will take place this summer.
"Indian country deserves a federal partner that works together in a coordinated and effective manner and I know that the council will be a great structure to make that happen," Jewell said.
The council, which Jewell will chair, will include the heads of many federal departments and agencies.