Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Obama promises to restore First Nation treaty rights

From President-elect Obama's press conference today announcing Colorado's Senator Ken Salazar as his pick for Secretary of the Interior comes this nugget:

Among the many responsibilities Ken will bear as our next secretary of the Interior is helping ensure that we finally live up to the treaty obligations that are owed to the first Americans. We need more than just a government-to-government relationship; we need a nation-to-nation relationship. And Ken and I will work together to make sure that tribal nations have a voice in this administration... And one of the qualities that I so admire in Ken is his ability to listen and to bring all parties together. When I was campaigning out west, one of the things you heard again and again was state/local officials, farmers, ranchers feeling that the Washington bureaucracy didn't hear what was taking place. Native American tribes felt that they had no access. And to have somebody like Ken in this position who is going to be able to, I think, communicate the concern of... our administration to people who are seeing what's happening on the ground, that'll make an extraordinary difference.

The best part of this is that it was part of Obama's prepared text, given as his own unprompted message rather than merely in response to a related question. I would rather see the Bureau of Indian Affairs turned into its own Cabinet department rather than being shoved in with the larger land management bureaucracy, as NM Governor and Commerce Secretary-designate Bill Richardson had promised to do during his own presidential campaign, but this high-profile recognition of tribes as nations is still a very positive sign and a step in the right direction. I'm also thrilled that at least three mountain west states - New Mexico, Arizona, and now Colorado - will be represented in Obama's cabinet.

For more information about Salazar and a video of the press conference, which also included the announcement that former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack will be Secretary of Agriculture, see this article from the New York Times.


Dyaitsidyam∂ said...

The next question becomes what the price tag is on living up to those obligations. Given the money crunch Washington is in right now, I doubt that will be a priority on lawmakers' minds.

But a step in the right direction indeed! :)

Nathan Empsall said...

The price tag is indeed a big part of the battle that may take some time, but sovereignty rights, like criminal jurisdiction, can come (economically) free.