Friday, January 20, 2012

A seat in the circle: President Obama and First Nations People

I am writing this with one goal in mind: to entice anyone who stops by here to go read a diary written by Aji at Daily Kos about what having a Democratic administration has meant for Native Americans.

We've all heard a lot of back-and-forth about whether or not President Obama has done enough for African Americans or Latinos in this country. But when it comes to our invisible Native brothers and sisters, the topic almost never even comes up. Here's how Aji introduces it in reference to my title and the picture above.

[Yes, I know the usual metaphor is "a seat at the table." I also know that what you do, in fact, see in the above photo is a table. But in our traditions, we tend to sit in circles for a meeting of any import, whether political or ceremonial, and whether or not a table is present - and under most administrations, even the circle has been effectively denied us.]

The photo you see was taken by White House photographer Pete Souza on December 15, 2010. It's the introductory image from this report: Achieving a Brighter Future for Tribal Nations: 2011 White House Tribal Nations Conference Progress Report. Both photo and report are, frankly, firsts, but especially so for a modern presidential administration. So, for that matter, is the locution "tribal nations" in the title - recognizing, in a very small but nonetheless significant way, that we are indeed sovereign entities.

She then provides just a bit of fairly recent history about a couple of Republican politicians and ends her introduction this way.

But none of them has actually made an effort to go into country with open minds, open ears, and closed mouths, to find out what our tribal nations need and want. None of them has given a damn. For a lot of them, we were completely invisible - images on the screen of an old Western, at most. And even when we weren't, we were still, after all these years, an "Indian problem" to be "dealt with" and exploited, not sovereign equals deserving of notice, much less respect. And recent Republican administrations, when they've deigned to notice us at all, have uniformly taken the "to be dealt with and exploited" approach.

And then came 2008 and Barack Black Eagle, and for the first time, some of us wondered whether a tiny sliver of hope might not exist for our nations, as well.

Considering how past administrations have treated us, even that tiny sliver is very welcome. And three years into this administration, I find that my hope was not misplaced.

The rest of the diary is spent outlining the need and impact of 5 initiatives by this administration that demonstrate why her hope was not misplaced.

1. The ACA and the IHCIAR (Indian Health Care Improvement Act Reauthorization)
2. LET'S MOVE! in Indian Country
3. The Tribal Law and Order Act
4. "Scars Upon Sacred Land"
5. United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Please go read about how important these milestones have been to people who are so often overlooked by the rest of us.

THANK YOU to President Obama for not only doing all of this - but for giving our First Nation brothers and sisters a seat in the circle!

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