U.S. tribal leaders meet with Obama
Wednesday, October 01, 2008
At a gathering of more than 100 Native American tribal leaders, Miko Beasley Denson, Chief of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, and Democrat presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama discussed the federal government's role in the economic development of American tribes, Denson's office said.
Representatives from dozens of tribes were on hand last month at the All Indian Pueblo Center in Albuquerque, N.M., to meet with the Senator.
Obama described the meeting as "extraordinary," according to Denson's office.
Obama discussed the relationship between the United States government and sovereign nations such as the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians.
According to officials with the MBCI, Obama noted that historically, Native Americans have been treated as second-class citizens and that he believed the current state of health care in Indian Country was unacceptable.
Denson pressed the senator with a question pertaining to economic development and the role the federal government should play in helping to diversify tribal economies, Tribal officials said.
"Since the Indian Self Determination Act in the 1970's, there hasn't been another piece of federal legislation that has really made an impact on tribal economies," said Denson. "What initiatives will you propose that will invest in tribes the way the federal government has invested in corporate America? If we are to diversify our economies as you have suggested, how will an Obama administration collaborate with Native Americans to help us move in that direction?"
In response, Obama pledged to have a senior advisor on Native American affairs in the White House with whom all policy decisions affecting Native Americans would be discussed, Tribal officials said.
The Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians has already significantly diversified its own economy beyond gaming with, for example, Applied Geo Technologies (AGT), a 100 percent Tribally-owned, 8(a), chartered corporation that specializes in aerospace and defense opportunities.
AGT was one of six Mississippi businesses recognized by Mississippi Gov. Haley R. Barbour for its impact on the Mississippi's economy during the 2007 calendar year.
Tribal officials said Obama said, if elected, he would commit to convening a meeting of tribal leaders to discuss tribal issues at least once a year, saying that an Obama administration's relationship with Indian Country would be one based on "respect and mutual regard."
When pressed for specifics by Denson, according to his office, Obama mentioned the opportunity many Native American tribes have to play a role in the new "Green Economy" he wants to create.
The senator has said he wants to create five million new jobs by strategically investing $150 billion over the next 10 years to catalyze private efforts to build a clean energy future.
The senator said that tribes could play a role in that effort by harnessing their significant natural resources, according to Tribal officials.
Denson, who categorizes himself as an undecided voter with regard to the Presidential election, was pleased with the meeting, his office said.
"I was impressed with Sen. Obama and his ideas," he said. "This meeting was a very good start to a dialogue that I hope will continue if he is elected President. Opportunities to shake hands and discuss issues like water rights, tribal economies, trust issues and 8(a) programs go a long way toward repairing the strained relationship that Indian Country has had with the Federal Government."