From Erika Bolstad in Washington D.C. –
President Barack Obama told hundreds of people gathered for his second Tribal Summit that great strides have been made in improving health care and education in Indian Country, but that much remains to be done, including improving safety and economic opportunities.
All 12 Alaska Native Corporations were invited to today's Tribal Summit, which was attended by more than 500 people representing more than 320 tribes.
Obama told those gathered for the summit that he intends to keep the promise he made on the campaign trail: to make sure native communities have a voice in the White House.
"I said that so long as I held this office, never again would Native Americans be forgotten or ignored," he said. "And over the past two years, my administration, working hand in hand with many of you, has strived to keep that promise."
He also said that he wants to "hear more from you about how we can strengthen the relationship between our governments, whether in education or health care, or in fighting crime or in creating jobs."
"And that’s why we’re here today," he said. "That’s a promise I’ve made to you. I remember, more than two years ago, in Montana, I visited the Crow Nation -- one of the many times I met with tribal leaders on the campaign trail. You may know that on that trip, I became an adopted Crow Indian. My Crow name is 'One Who Helps People Throughout the Land.' And my wife, when I told her about this, she said, 'You should be named 'One Who Isn't Picking Up His Shoes and His Socks.'"
Obama also said the U.S. will lend its support to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The U.S. voted against the declaration when the General Assembly adopted it in 2007, according to the AP, arguing that it was incompatible with existing laws.
More from Obama's opening remarks, after the jump. The closing remarks will be broadcast live by the White House.
"The truth is, for a long time, Native Americans were implicitly told that they had a choice to make. By virtue of the longstanding failure to tackle wrenching problems in Indian Country, it seemed as though you had to either abandon your heritage or accept a lesser lot in life; that there was no way to be a successful part of America and a proud Native American," he said.
"But we know this is a false choice. To accept it is to believe that we can’t and won’t do better. And I don’t accept that. I know there is not a single person in this room who accepts that either. We know that, ultimately, this is not just a matter of legislation, not just 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."