January 20, 2009 –
Secretary of the Interior Designate Ken Salazar Addresses
Tribal Leaders at National Summit in Virginia
MAYETTA: Tribal Council members Chago Hale, Joyce Guerrero and Carrie O’Toole left over the weekend for Washington, D.C. and are planning to attend the Inauguration ceremonies this week. As part of their activities, they were scheduled to attend a summit meeting hosted by the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) and the National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA) held yesterday in Arlington, Virginia.
At the summit, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Designate Ken Salazar pledged that the “first Americans will have their place at the table in the Obama Administration and the Department of Interior (DOI)”, according to a press release issued by NCAI.
“We have some great opportunities yet some major challenges ahead of us,” Salazar told the more than 400 tribal leaders in attendance. “But we will only address those challenges through a spirit of consultation. The Department of Interior will work hand-in-hand with Indian Country to address the challenges of our time. We have to make sure that Native American communities of the United States are never left outside of the tent again,” Salazar said to applause.
“What a way to start 2009 and a new relationship with the incoming Obama Administration,” said NCAI President Joe A. Garcia. “It is encouraging that Sen. Salazar is putting Indian Country’s agenda at the top of his priority list before he even takes the oath of office.”
Salazar said the first order of business for the DOI is to appoint the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, adding the incoming Administration will announce the appointment very soon. He also said one of his top priorities would be a resolution to the trust settlement that has been wrapped up in courts and Congress for years.
“Energy issues and economic development initiatives within reservations around the country will also be top priorities for us,” Salazar said. “There is no doubt that tribal lands offer great opportunities for renewable resources. Whether it be sun, wind or geothermal, we need to make sure Indian communities are grasping these opportunities.”
Salazar also committed to moving forward with passage of the reauthorization of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act and Indian Country education initiatives.
“NCAI is committed to working closely with the Obama Administration and the new team at DOI under Secretary Designate Salazar,” said NCAI Executive Director Jacqueline Johnson Pata. “Meeting with tribal leaders so early in the process shows Indian Country the seriousness of President-Elect Obama’s pledge to work closely with tribes in the months and years to come.”
In other news, Tribal Council member Carrie O’Toole said that she and the other Council members were planning to witness the inauguration ceremony this morning and to attend the American Indian Society Ball this evening. Nedra Darling, PBPN member, is on the planning committee for the ball.