President Barack Obama’s first year of his second term in office is coming to a close as there are only a couple of months left and it’s been an interesting first year complete with a government shutdown and the Benghazi incident. But what has happened for Indian country?
Below are five items that happened this year that were highlights of the Obama administration and its focus on improving government-to-government relations with tribal nations throughout Turtle Island.
1. Equally Footing for Tribes
In January of this year, President Obama signed into law the Sandy Recovery Improvement Act of 2013 which altered “the Stafford Act so that tribes experiencing a disaster or emergency situations do not have to rely on a state governor to request the president for an emergency declaration,” Indian Country Today Media Network reported on January 31. The new law streamlined the response process which cut costs and gets the much needed assistance on the ground faster. The law has already been put into direct use on multiple occasions.
2. VAWA Finally
On March 7, Obama held a signing ceremony for the long debated Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) at the Department of the Interior surrounded by Native American women who had long fought for the passage of VAWA. The signing signified a turning point in the fight against domestic violence against women in tribal communities around the country.
3. A Council to Further the Dialogue
Obama has continued to work on improving government-to-government relations since taking office in 2008 and on June 26 of this year he added another step to the process by creating the White House Council on Native American Affairs. At the time Obama said, “This policy is established as a means of promoting and sustaining prosperous and resilient tribal communities.” The council is expected to oversee and coordinate the progress of federal agencies on tribal programs and consultation with tribes across the federal government.
4. Establishing a Plan of Attack
In May Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn announced that the Obama administration was working towards creating a patch for the highly debated 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Salazar v. Patchak, which allowed a lawsuit to go forward challenging a tribal casino in Michigan from opening, despite the fact that the suit was filed three years after Interior took land into trust.
As ICTMN reported “the overarching problem the ruling creates for tribes is that it leaves the door open for costly lawsuits long after tribal projects, like housing, casinos, and healthcare facilities have broken ground.”
5. Connor to No. 2
In August, Obama nominated Michael Connor, Taos Pueblo and current Commissioner of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation at Interior, for the Deputy Secretary of the Department of the Interior behind Sally Jewell. The nomination was highly supported not only in Indian country, but by Jewell and on October 8, the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee unanimously supported the nomination that now awaits a full Senate vote.