01 February 2008

Obama at IndianCountry.com

The following statement by Sen. Barack Obama can be found at IndianCountry.com:

The 2008 presidential election will determine the future direction of the country, and I am running for president to change the national policy agenda so that it provides opportunity and improves the quality of life for all Americans, not just the most privileged among us. It is my goal to run a campaign from the ''bottom up'' - a campaign that empowers individuals at the community level who do not accept the national priorities set by their current government leaders in Washington. And I hope that American Indians will give my campaign a serious look and join our coalition for change.

As a youth I lived for several years in Indonesia. I began my professional life working as a community organizer in an impoverished Chicago neighborhood devastated by steel layoffs. I know, I have seen the desperation and disorder of the powerless: how it twists the lives of children on the streets of Jakarta, Indonesia, in much the same way as it does the lives of children on Chicago's South Side or the lives of many children of the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota. I know the response of the powerful to this disorder - alternating as it does between a dull complacency and downright indifference. And I know that many residents of these communities have already given up the hope that politics can actually improve their lives.

It is this experience that reinforces my respect for tribal sovereignty and my unwavering support for Native tribes' government-to-government relationship with the U.S. government. It is clear to me that Washington's ''one size fits all'' solutions don't work in Indian country and never have. Instead, my experiences have taught me that the real solutions - the solutions that work - are the ones that come from the affected communities themselves. The simple truth is that sound Indian policy must have at its core, the empowerment of tribal nations to address their own problems. That will be an important emphasis of my presidency.

It is time for the president of the United States to communicate directly with American Indian leaders and include them in important policy decisions that impact Indian country. I will appoint an American Indian policy adviser on my senior White House staff so that Indian country has a strong voice at the highest levels of the Obama administration. And I will call an annual meeting with Native leaders to develop a national Indian policy agenda.

We must make sure that it is not just the BIA and IHS dealing with issues impacting Native communities. The president of the United States should meet on a regular basis with the American Indian leadership and ensure relationships of mutual dignity and respect.

In my three years in the United States Senate, I have been at the forefront of the fight to pass the Indian Health Care Improvement Act. I led the effort to stop voter identification requirements that have been used in several states to suppress voter turnout on Indian reservations. And I voted to dramatically increase funding for the IHS and urban Indian health programs. In addition, I have been an advocate for fully funding the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program that will provide critical aid to many impoverished reservation communities.

As president, I will support full funding of the IHS and continued funding of urban Indian health programs. Having been raised by a working single mother who understood the importance of education to her children's future, I understand that dilapidated reservation schools are intolerable, and I will insist on robust funding of school construction in Indian country. Further, I also understand that tribal colleges play a vital role and are doing a magnificent job in preparing their students to compete in the modern economy, and I will support their enhancement and expansion. And I understand that Indian gaming revenues are important tribal resources for funding education, health care, law enforcement and other essential government functions.

Additionally, tribal communities must be empowered to protect their citizens and it is therefore essential to provide greater funding for tribal police programs and tribal courts and for correcting by statute the jurisdictional gaps that inhibit tribes' ability to protect their communities. And I will advocate legal protections for sacred places and cultural traditions, including Native ancestors' burial grounds and churches.

Furthermore, I firmly believe in the words of Justice Hugo Black that ''[g]reat nations, like great men, should keep their word.'' So under my presidency, we will live up to the federal government's solemn commitments enshrined in treaties with the tribal nations. And I will ensure that we live up to our commitments in ensuring the effective, efficient and honest management of trust income, as this Nation has promised to do, and to equitably redress the errors of the past.

My opponents are fond of pointing out that I have not been in Washington long. My answer to them is that I have been there long enough to know that things in Washington must change. And nowhere is that more true than in our Nation's policies with respect to the First Americans.

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