By Rob Capriccioso
Their applause was especially loud when Obama told them his intention to have the U.S. begin supporting the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, although many immediately began wondering what that would mean in terms of specific policy dealings and changes to federal-tribal relations.
They were also more than willing to be critical. In break-out sessions, some asked why the administration hadn’t done more to get Congress to pass a fix to the Supreme Court’s 2009 Carcieri decision, which limited Interior’s ability to take land into trust for tribes. Administration officials insisted they pushed hard on that matter, and promised to continue to do so–with tribal leaders promising to keep up the pressure.
Seneca Nation President Robert Odawi Porter bluntly told Obama in a policy paper that he believed the president “has not put forward a strategic plan” to achieve goals to making tribal nations “full partners in America’s economy”–words Obama himself had used at his first tribal nations summit.
“Instead, he has set forth 26 proposed action items on multiple subjects that reflect a scattershot approach that undermines his commitment to any meaningful or lasting change,” the paper said.
Porter added in an interview that the Obama administration should be praised for the accomplishments it has made on Indian issues, but he cautioned that too much of the perceived progress has been focused on settling past injustices, like the Cobell case, rather than moving forward with proactive, visionary plans.
Porter said that if the president fails to embrace an aggressive Indian country legislative agenda, he runs the risk of focusing solely on administrative policy changes and legislative appropriation that “only promotes cosmetic changes to the status quo.”
In other words, lasting change will not be made.
Obama is doing better than previous presidents. But his accomplishments may be closer to the minimum than the maximum tribes expect. We're still waiting for "proactive, visionary plans" that go beyond the clichés and buzzwords.
For more on the subject, see US Praises Itself on Native Rights and How to Consult with 564 Tribes.