WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama told Native American leaders Wednesday that he will make his first trip as president to Indian Country next year, expanding on his vow to enhance the bond between the federal and tribal governments.
Obama told the tribal leaders at the fifth annual White House Tribal Nations Conference that the federal government still has work to do to sustain a strong relationship with tribal governments.
He said that the United States can do more to give tribes more control over their communities and that high rates of poverty among Native Americans are "a moral call to action." In addition, he said, the federal government needs to ensure that Native Americans have access to affordable health care and must help tribes be good stewards of their native homelands.
"Standing up for justice and tribal sovereignty, increasing economic opportunity, expanding quality health care, protecting native homelands — this is the foundation we can build on," Obama said.
He recalled that as a candidate he visited Crow Agency, Mont., and vowed to visit tribal lands next year.
The Tribal Nations Conference represents the 566 federally recognized tribes.
The tribal leaders also heard from several Cabinet heads, including Attorney General Eric Holder.
Obama promised during his election campaign to regularly meet with tribal leaders, to hear directly from them about how his administration can meet their needs and help improve their lives.
A newly formed White House Council on Native American Affairs is holding meetings and listening sessions that coincide with the conference. The topics include mascots, violent crime, sacred sites and education.