Claiming that his record shows he is more committed than his opponent in the upcoming presidential election to serving Indian country, President Barack Obama has answered questions about some of the major issues facing American Indian citizens and tribes today.

“[With me] as president, you have a voice in the White House,” he tells Indian Country Today Media Network. “We’re moving forward, but there’s more work to do. But we are seeing a turning point in the relationship between our nations, and ultimately our relationship is not just a matter of legislation or a matter of policy. It’s a matter of whether we’re going to live up to our basic values.”

Not only is this the first time President Obama has done a Q&A with the American Indian press, it is believed to be the first time a sitting president of the United States has conducted such an interview with Native media. It’s a first that aligns with the image Obama has worked hard to cultivate in Indian country.

Adopted as “One Who Helps People Throughout the Land” when he was campaigning for president on the Crow Nation reservation in May 2008, he has since hired several Native American staffers, held three annual tribal summits and taken administrative action on multiple long-standing trust and water settlements.

He has also supported and signed pro-tribal legislation, including the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, the Tribal Law and Order Act and the Helping Expedite and Advance Responsible Tribal Homeownership [HEARTH] Act. His record has pleased many tribal leaders; some hail him as one of the best presidents for Indian country in recent history.

This landmark Q&A is the first installment in a series of interviews ICTMN will be conducting this election season with federal, state, local and tribal officials.

Why should American Indians vote for you this time around? What has been your proudest accomplishment to date on behalf of American Indians?

[With me] as president, you have a voice in the White House. Since the earliest days of my administration, we’ve been working hand in hand between our nations to keep that promise through a comprehensive strategy to help meet the challenges facing Native American communities.

That starts with improving the economy and creating jobs. One of the keys to unlocking economic growth on reservations is investments in roads and high-speed rail and high-speed Internet and the infrastructure that will better connect your communities to the broader economy and draw capital and create jobs on tribal lands. That’s why my administration has boosted infrastructure investments through the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Indian Reservation Roads Program, and we’ve offered loans to reach reservations with broadband.

We’ve also made critical investments into pressing needs like renovating schools and devoting resources to job training, especially for young people in Indian country. And we’re working with you to restore tribal homelands in order to help you develop your economies. When it comes to creating jobs, closing the opportunity gap, and leaving something better for our future generations, few areas hold as much promise as clean energy. Native American lands hold great potential wind and solar energy resources, and the potential for solar energy is even higher. My administration will continue to invest in our clean energy future to strengthen our economies and our energy security.

But if we’re going to bring real and lasting change for our nations one thing we need to do is make health care more accessible and affordable. We know that as long as Native Americans die of illnesses like tuberculosis, alcoholism, diabetes, pneumonia and influenza at far higher rates than the rest of the population, then we’re going to have to do more to address disparities in health care delivery. The health reform law that I signed, now called Obamacare—which I like because I do care—included the permanent reauthorization of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act (IHCIA), which authorizes new programs and services within the Indian Health Service, helping more folks get the care they need.

So we’re making progress. We’re moving forward, but there’s more work to do. But we are seeing a turning point in the relationship between our nations, and ultimately our relationship is not just a matter of legislation or a matter of policy. It’s a matter of whether we’re going to live up to our basic values. It’s a matter of upholding an ideal that has always defined who we are as Americans: e pluribus unum—out of many, one. And I’m confident that if we continue to work together, that we will live up to this simple motto and we will achieve a brighter future for the First Americans and for all Americans.

What does tribal sovereignty mean to you? What is the best way to resolve conflicts between tribal nations and the federal and state governments?

I believe that treaty commitments are paramount law, and I will strive to fulfill these commitments as president. This means providing quality, affordable health care and improving education quality on reservations across America.

As promised, my administration has hosted annual meetings with Native American leaders to ensure that tribal nations have an opportunity to work directly with cabinet members and agency officials to craft a policy agenda together. I also issued an executive order instructing agencies to develop plans for consultation and coordination with tribal governments, which has resulted in historic levels of engagement. Additionally, I have hired Native American personnel at high levels throughout the administration to advise on policies that directly impact tribal communities. Through meaningful dialogue, together we can move toward partnerships in addressing the needs of Indian country.

Obama with Navajo Code Talkers at the White House Tribal Nations Conference in 2011. (AP Photo) 

Do you believe in a clean Carcieri fix? If so, what do you think it would look like? If not, why not?

The Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Carcieri v. Salazar held that under the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 the federal government cannot take land into trust for Indian tribes not under federal jurisdiction in 1934. To address the United States Supreme Court’s decision, for the past two years my budgets have included language reaffirming the Secretary of the Interior’s authority to take land into trust for all federally recognized Indian tribes.

How have you tried to balance federal budgetary spending with the trust responsibility and obligations to tribes called for in the Constitution and treaties? How do you feel about the Bureau of Indian Affairs? Indian Health Service? Do you see a need for reform?

I believe that strong and stable tribal governments built through self-determination are the key to overcoming great challenges. As such, my administration is engaged in a wide range of activities to support tribal self-determination, and my proposed budget increases funding to compensate tribes for the work they perform in managing federal programs under self-determination contracts and self-governance compacts.

Combating crime in Indian country requires cooperative efforts by federal, state and tribal entities. In July 2010, I signed the Tribal Law and Order Act, which addresses many of the public safety challenges that confront tribal communities, including increased funding to operate newly constructed detention centers. My budget also proposes increased funds for tribal courts and additional law enforcement officers, coordinates community policing programs to reduce crime and protects natural resources in Indian country.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Indian Health Service are critical to removing obstacles to build and promote tribal self-determination and strong and stable government institutions, while promoting job creation and access to health care. Through Indian affairs programs, tribes can improve the quality of life for their members, and support education, job training and employment opportunities. My proposed budget maintains this commitment by providing $2.5 billion in total budget authority for such services. To build on our commitment to increase access to health care for American Indians and Alaska Natives, my budget provides $4.4 billion for the Indian Health Service, in order to make key investments in clinical services and staffing, tribally operated health programs and health facilities construction.

Do you understand tribal and Indian concerns relating to the Keystone XL pipeline?

My administration is conducting a thorough and rigorous review of the Keystone pipeline. We are weighing many critical issues involved in the decision, including impacts to public health, potential threats to water supplies, climate change and impacts on cultural and natural resources, especially across large areas of Indian country and water sources along the pipeline’s route. These issues, along with American energy security and economic factors, have been and will continue to be closely considered in the administration’s future decisions. On the other hand, my opponent, Governor Romney, has said he would approve the pipeline on day one of his term, regardless of concerns like impacts on communities and the environment.

Do you see a need for more federal economic development opportunities for tribes and reservations to resolve the problem of poverty on reservations?

While we have made progress in restarting job creation—with 4.6 million private sector jobs created over the past 30 months [as of press time]—I believe much more needs to be done to put Americans back to work. While the current economic crisis has challenged all Americans, we know this to be especially true for Indian country, where some reservations face unemployment rates of up to 80 percent. Though the economic challenges of Indian country are significant, I am committed to building strong, prosperous Native American economies.

My proposed budget includes funding and proposals to support business growth and access to credit in Indian country, to continue to expand job creation opportunities, to give all children in Indian country a fair shot at success by improving K-12 education and expanding access to college, and to assist with winter fuel costs. I have also proposed a 10 percent increase from 2012 enacted levels in grants to Indian tribes, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians and tribal nonprofit organizations that provide employment and training services to unemployed and low-income Native Americans, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians. The additional funding in the coming year will allow grantees to serve more participants and expand their emphasis on helping individuals advance along career pathways.

Obama with his adoptive Crow “parents” at the White House Tribal Nations Conference in 2011. (AP Photo) 

Why do you think there is/was so much resistance to the Violence Against Women Act? Do you think tribal courts should have authority to make judgments against nontribal citizens who commit crimes on tribal territory as a means to lower crime rates?

Native American women suffer from domestic violence at some of the highest rates in the United States. And we know that there are countless more victims of domestic violence and sexual assault whose stories may never be told. Some of the abusers of Native American women go unpunished because tribes cannot prosecute non-Indians, even if the offender lives on the reservation and is married to a tribal member.

Romney refuses to stand up to the Republicans in Congress who blocked these crucial improvements to the Violence Against Women Act. I believe that Congress should close the jurisdictional gap in the criminal justice system and provide tribes with the authority to hold offenders accountable for their crimes against Native American women, regardless of the perpetrator’s race. The reauthorization addresses these issues that made it difficult to prosecute abusers on tribal lands in some cases. Tribal courts’ jurisdiction over domestic violence will be recognized, and tribal courts authority to enforce protection orders will be clarified. Congress should act on this today. VAWA provides helpful resources to the tribes, but without addressing the jurisdictional gap, those tools only go so far.

Responses to "President Obama Answers Questions From Indian Country Today Media Network in Unprecedented Exchange"

  1. Obama's promises are no better than the paper he signs them on. Four more years will produce a lame duck president that doesn't have to worry about re-election so therefore those promises will not be fulfilled. It wouldn't surprise me if he pulled an Andrew Jackson & decided it would be "safer" for the nations living on the wealth of natural resources, to relocate.

    I weep at the past performances of the American government in it's empty promises, promises to leave the First Nations alone, promises that never should have been needed in the first place if the human race wasn't so greedy & self-centered.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Intuitively I have concerns about promises to help "develop" Indian Nations...Comment about building railways and other profit making ventures is suspect. The Nations will be at risk and exposed to the infiltration of more outsiders with money to take over and capatilize for their own profit.

    Beware, who and why you let someone into your house....

  3. Anonymous says:

    Release Leonard Peltier from prison, Among other issues that the Native American community faces it appears since this is an election year of course your going to reach out to the minority's in this nation. It's part of the campaign process.

    I respect that you are making efforts to make changes, and when you came into office you already had a big mess to contend with. My observation since you have been in office I have witnessed more people being laid off, both Native and non Native now than I have in my entire work history. Spending and borrowing from other country's is not going to balance the deficit we now face.

    As far as I can see it's going to be a real rough ride for many in this country both Native and non Native. EVERYTHING Is out of balance. If you truly represent Native America you will consult with your adoptive Native American parent's and elders on all of this issues including the one's mention in this story. One final note I would not want to be in your position.

    All my relations!

  4. Thank you Mr. President for acknowledging we Native American , First Nation Peoples. I knew you were a man of great character!

    Debbie Millette-Sanchez

    Makwa ini, Mic Mac, Hurron, Abenaki, and Attikamek, Algonquin Clan Ancestory, and Lineage..Mekweetch, and Walalaan Mr. President

  5. I agree with nobodysbaby hes waiting for the 4 more years to sit back and become andrew jackson and put our people thru hell all over again.
    I believe he is only talking to the native ppl to get the xtra votes he needs to get into office and reek havoc on this nation. he is talking real heavly with russia and i believe he will make this a communist contry by the time he is done.
    I refuse to vote for either of them for president. personally I think we should have a native chief in office.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Well said Wolfeswoman! Frankly I see this coming too. Both candidates are cut from the same cloth as far as I can tell. And i agree a true Native American Chief should be in office. No TWINKIES PLEASE!

  7. Anonymous says:

    It's time to have a real Native Chief run for office. I think it would definately change things and for the better in many ways. I am not Native but my granddaughter that I raise is. I often worry about what her future will be in these very scary times. I'll vote for a Native Chief for sure. Time to get back to the basics.

  8. Unknown says:

    Pretty words, but just words for now. I would see proof of his words working, before I believed any more of his promises. '

  9. Saj says:

    Yes, one thing I've been saying for years now is... since our history is now well known, the wrongs done to us are well known,and FACTS are known. Any truly caring president will find a way to return this country back to our hands as the original caretakers of it. I feel also that not only should one chief be in office, but that it should be all chiefs of EVERY TRIBE together as one sitting in the "high chair". And all decisions be made and discussed with eachother. Also.... I'm tired of hearing about just these two when there are others running as well. I still don't know what to think about Obama, and nothing against him, but Roseanne Barr is running also, and I think she'd be a good fit, since of course there are no Natives in this, especially since she's more like the rest of us as well as not so fake, like the usual businessy type presidents/ runners are, who mainly just say things just to appease people. She also is very supportive of Native American culture, tradition, etc...

  10. Anonymous says:

    It is great that President Obama has made this historic jester. However, it may be self serving since Arizona is a swing state needed for re-election. I believe his promises are sincere, but I do not believe his leadership is effective enough make them have any substance.

  11. Anonymous says:

    My Great grandmother, Was a Cherokee woman, And was traded for a pig. I don't think that The European, or American Government can give back my Grandmother, Feelings and who she was as a person .

  12. When OBAMA grants clemency to Leonard Peltier, then and only then will I believe another walking eagle too full of shit to fly Public Relations circus freak show, put on, plastic, oreo cookie, standing bull shit, propaganda show. Actions not words.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Obama will buffalo anybody he can. And your all fools to believe a word of it. what a FAKE individual one can be. DA

  14. Things to watch out for: the "Americanization" of the Indian - not good, I'm all for preserving the diversity of cultures. Infiltration of Native lands for purposes of gain (not for the people). However, this monster is better than the alternative. We can't have someone in government who doesn't know how to play the game, and he does it well - no one can win all the time, and he needs more time to help us recover. I think his heart is good, but his hands are somewhat tied....

  15. The sooner that the brothers and sisters of whatever skin color, who are famous and have clout the sooner Leonard Peltier will be freed and the sooner, the truth of genocide will be taught in the school systems and written in the history books. With awareness, and brought finally into the light of day, what has been covered up for too long can and will be addressed and then things can change for the better. We need the "BIG GUNS" - the celebrities to lead the way. I can only do so much as a "nobody" on Facebook, and I've been waiting too long for this. Hollywood can instigate what we who are invisible can not, and faster. I salute the rich and famous for getting on board this train. It is Past Time, and there is not much time left of Earth as we have known it. I go to my grave knowing I did all I could, but educating myself was certainly the first step. One step at a time and one day at a time, by walking in balance, from here on in, is not only a charm, it is a lifesaver on a slowly sinking ship. ~~♥~~

  16. As a son of Lithuanian immigrants who fled the second Russian invasion during WWII I can honestly say that I am a brother in spirit to Native Americans, all Native peoples - and all my relations - around the world. I have felt a strong kinship since childhood, and have always lamented the spread of Western "civilization" and its path of enormous destruction. There is great beauty, deep meaning and dignity in the traditional ways. White folks have a lot to learn from native peoples, who must be left alone to determine their own way of life and future as they see fit. I am deeply ashamed of the horrible suffering that white people have inflicted on native peoples around the world over the past 500+ years. We cannot change the past, but, hopefully, we can learn from it and not repeat the same mistakes. Yes, I strongly agree with many of the above comments that our country needs many more Native Americans in public office. This land was, and still is, the rightful homeland of the Indian Nation, and it is right that the First People be in positions of leadership here. Yes, I would like to see a Native American President. I am glad that we finally have an African American President. I know by some of the above comments that some consider him to be a patsy for big business, which does, in fact, "run the show" (and not just here, but around most of the world). Given that reality, we have to do what is possible to spread the spirit of loving kindness and justice, which includes tribal jurisdiction over all residents of tribal lands. Peace to all our relations.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Arizona is not a swing state for the 2012 elections.

  18. Anonymous says:

    Roseanne Barr???

  19. Anonymous says:

    President Obama has hardly just sat back during the past 4 years and he's been a president that has been more active with the Native American community than past presidents. VOTE.

  20. Anonymous says:

    Vote for President Obama. He has had more interactions with the Native American people than previous presidents. Do you trust the other candidate to help Native Americans?

  21. Anonymous says:

    Totally disagree with this sentiment. The republican candidate seems to change his stance on every issue he has expounded on.

  22. Anonymous says:

    Especially the republican candidate!

  23. Anonymous says:


  24. nativewife2000 says:

    What about the tribes who are fighting for federal recognition and have been for years where do they fit in. Some of these tribe are have trouble getting the information due to paper genocide some of have been searching for our information but when the courthouse way back then was burned alot of information was up in smoke. Some of us tribes are trying our best to get this infromation have been for years.We know we have a certain criteria that has to be met.Some of us are State Recognized already that's not good enough it shouldn't even be this way it's just wrong no other race has to prove who they are why should we.So could someone just please tell me me what are we suppose to do because I just don't know there is know talk about the tribes that are still fighting be recognized. I just would like someone to tell what are we suppose to do please please tell me somebody peace and luv to you all.

  25. Anonymous says:


  26. Anonymous says:

    and what exactly has he DONE for them since making all of these grand promises?? anyone?

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