White House holds American Indian summit

Dec. 5, 2012 at 6:06 PM
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WASHINGTON, Dec. 5 (UPI) -- President Barack Obama hosted a White House summit for American Indians, pledging to improve relations between their tribes and the federal government.

The summit, which Obama has held each of his four years in office, featured representatives from many of the 566 federally recognized Indian nations along with a number of Cabinet secretaries and Obama himself, who promised better partnership with native nations.

Speaking to the tribal representatives, Obama pledged "a policy centered on self-determination and the right for tribal governments to do whatever you think is best to strengthen your communities."

Obama pledged more help in cracking down on domestic abuse on Indian reservations and an increased focus on economic expansion.

"We've got to rebuild America's infrastructure -- from roads to high-speed Internet -- that will help connect native communities to other parts of the country and other parts of the world," he said. "Congress needs to expand support for Native American small businesses, because when they're opening new stores or exporting new goods, then they're creating new jobs."

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said more than 190,000 acres of land have been put into a federal trust for Indians since Obama took office. In 2007 and 2008, only about 15,000 acres of land were being set aside by the Interior Department, he said.

The federal government has settled a 16-year legal battle over land rights for Indian nations at a cost of $3.4 billion, which Salazar said will "improve the lives of American Indians and the administration of American Indian trusts."

Salazar commented on the larger issue of trust between natives and the federal government, pledging the Obama administration has turned the page on a long and frequently painful legacy of relations with American Indians.

"We all know that the federal government's history with Indian nations is long and troubled. We live with a somber legacy of injustice and broken promises," he said. "For me, and for this administration, that memory drives our commitment to do right and to turn a new page in the relationship between our nations. It is nothing short of a moral imperative."

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