In June 2013, President Obama established the White House Council on Native American Affairs. The council was established to “promote and sustain prosperous and resilient Native American tribal governments”, “recognize the government-to-government relationship” and recognize a “unique legal and political relationship,” with federally recognized tribes, according to a White House press release.
On Tuesday, Sept. 30, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell convened the fourth meeting of the council.
During the meeting, Obama administration cabinet secretaries and other senior officials focused on several main objectives—according to a Sept. 30 Department of the Interior press release these included:
- “reforming the Bureau of Indian Education"
- "promoting sustainable tribal economic development"
- "supporting sustainable management of Native lands, environments and natural resources,”
The council also discussed possible additional areas to focus on, based on the input of tribal leaders.
The meeting followed Obama’s visit to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota this past June, as well as Jewell’s visit to Indian Country on Sept. 26 during which Jewell and Navajo Nation leaders announced a $554 million settlement of the Navajo Nation’s trust accounting and management lawsuit.
At the signing ceremony for the settlement, Jewell stated that it reflects the administration’s continuing commitment to upholding the federal trust responsibility to Indian Country, according to a Sept 26 press release from the Department of the Interior.
“This historic agreement strengthens the government-to-government relationship between the United States and the Navajo Nation, helps restore a positive working relationship with the Nation’s tribal leaders and empowers Navajo communities,” Jewell said.
Since 2009, the Obama administration has resolved more than 80 tribal trust settlements with federal-recognized tribes, in addition to the $3.4 billion Cobell settlement of individual Indian trust claims, according to the Sept 30. DOI press release.
At the Sept. 30 council meeting, Jewell said that the Cobell settlement and the resolution of more than 80 other tribal trust management lawsuits under President Obama have launched “a new chapter in federal trust relations with tribes, reflecting our administration’s commitment to strengthening our government-to-government relationship with tribal leaders,” according to the Sept. 30 DOI press release.
“Today’s meeting of the council is another step toward building up that relationship by working to better coordinate the resources of the federal government so that tribal nations can more easily cut through red tape and access the tools they need to advance their economic and social goals,” Jewell said, according to the Sept. 30 press release.
In addition to Jewell, other participants at the meeting included Cecilia Munoz, Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, who co-chaired the meeting, Obama senior advisor Valerie Jarrett, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Mathews Burwell, Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and Jodi Gillette, special assistant to the President for Native American Affairs, according to photos from the meeting.