White House establishes Native Affairs Council

President Barack Obama addresses representatives invited from each of the 566 federally recognized American Indian tribes, and Alaska Native Villages, at the 2012 White House Tribal Nations Conference

President Barack Obama addresses representatives invited from each of the 566 federally recognized American Indian tribes, and Alaska Native Villages, at the 2012 White House Tribal Nations Conference. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of Labor)

The panel aims to elevate tribal issues beyond the Department of Interior.

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell called government to government consultations are the foundation of federal-tribal relationships, but admitted not many people understand that.

“As a newcomer to this role; while I knew about tribes being sovereign nations, I didn’t really fully understand the concept of self-determination and self-governance and how it interfaces with the federal government,” she said on conference call Thursday. “I would expect many of my colleagues on the Cabinet would also not be as steeped in those issues.”

The new council will meet quarterly, consist of Cabinet secretaries and be led by Jewell.

In addition to the new meetings, it permanently establishes the White House Tribal Nations Conference. The annual event will continue beyond the current administration.

Senior policy advisor for Native issues at the White House Jodi Gillette said the goal of the council is to more effectively manage tribal relationships.

“We talk about working in a coordinated and effective fashion. That’s something tribal leaders have told us we aren’t talking to each other enough,” she said.

Many tribal leaders have long complained different federal agencies offer different messages on both money and policy.

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