05 November 2009
To mark the beginning of Native American Heritage Month, President Obama met with the Heads of First Nation and Tribal leaders in DC. The full transcript of his opening remarks can be found here, but something that was of particular interest to me was this passage:
But the future of Indian Country rests on something more: the education we provide our children. (Applause.) We know that Native Americans face some of the lowest matriculation rates and highest high school and college dropout rates. That’s why the Recovery Act also included $170 million for Indian education — (applause) — and $277 million for Indian school construction. And that’s why my budget provided $50 million in advanced funding for tribal colleges that are often economic lifelines for a community. (Applause.) Students who study at a tribal college are eight times less likely to drop out of higher education, they continue on to a four-year institution at a higher rate than students in community colleges, and nearly 80 percent end up in careers that help their tribal nation.
And none of our efforts will take root if we can’t even guarantee that our communities are safe — safe places to learn, safe places to grow, safe places to thrive. And on some reservations, violent crime is more than 20 times the national average. The shocking and contemptible fact that one in three Native American women will be raped in their lifetimes is an assault on our national conscience that we can no longer ignore. (Applause.)
So tribes need support in strengthening their law enforcement capability. They need better resources and more training. And my administration fully appreciates the complexity and challenges you face when it comes to the criminal justice system on tribal lands. But we need to have a serious conversation with regard to all aspects of your public safety, and that’s a conversation my administration is committed to doing. (Applause.)
So this is a challenge we take very seriously. The Department of Justice, the Department of the Interior, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Health and Human Services are all working on ways to empower tribal governments to ensure greater safety in their own communities, and I want to particularly commend Attorney General Eric Holder for his efforts on this so far. I also strongly support the Tribal Law and Order Act, and I thank Chairman Dorgan and Representative Herseth-Sandlin for their leadership on this issue. And I look forward to Congress passing it so I can sign it into law. (Applause.)
He acknowledges the lack of fulfillment of any promises of any sort from anyone in Washington during the past regime. Good on him. I would also like to see the Tribal Law and Order Act passed into law. It will do a lot to help the disparity in protecting victims of violent crimes on Tribal land. It is good to see him acknowledge the 1 in 3 statistic of sexual violence against Native women.
Low high school graduation and higher education rates is also a major concern for Tribal families. Money is always tight, and despite what a lot of people think, tribal kids don’t just get to go to school for free. Education is the key to getting a foot out of poverty for a lot of people. It is a key to helping your community build itself up. Getting that education costs money.
President Obama signing this isn’t just a gesture (I hope). It means something. It’s important. He is making a commitment to Tribal Nations that Certain Past Presidents have forgotten (not that I am naming any names, but the last time anyone gave a damn his name rhymed w/ Clinton, Clinton, Oh, hells, it was Clinton).
I am hoping that this is the road that finally leads to a better life for Tribal Nations. Please, oh please let it be the right way to making life better for Tribal Nations.