November 2013, Washington, DC – Sealaska President & CEO Chris E. McNeil Jr., along with 11 tribal leaders from across Indian Country, met with President Barack Obama at the White House on Tuesday, a day ahead of the annual White House Tribal Nations Conference.
The meeting was a very focused opportunity to meet with the president about key policy issues related to creating jobs and sustainable economic development throughout Indian Country and within Alaska Native tribal governments and our Alaska Native corporations, according to McNeil. “It was a great honor today to meet with President Obama, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, key White House staff and 11 tribal leaders from across the country to discuss tribal and Alaska Native economic issues,” he said.
“I focused on three areas with the president: new regulations to supercharge Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI); subsistence rights for Alaska Natives as an economic and food security issue; and regulatory reform for the Small Business Administration’s 8(a) federal contracting programs and more intensive implementation of existing law. Especially in this era of budget cutting, we need creative and effective solutions that will make a real difference to our communities.”
The Alaska Federation of Natives and National Congress of American Indians encouraged representation of Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act ANCSA) corporations at the meeting. “Alaska is unique in the nation with our tribal governments and ANCSA for-profit institutions serving virtually the same tribal constituents,” said McNeil. “ANCSA corporations have also been recognized as “tribes” in more than 100 pieces of federal legislation, specially related to energy and economic development, and Native land and resources.”
“It was invaluable to be at the table for these discussions with the administration — actions in these areas would greatly increase economic development opportunities in Alaska and throughout Indian Country.”
The White House Tribal Nations Conference was formed in 2009 by Obama to advance the relationship between tribal nations and the federal government. Obama has specifically included ANCSA corporations in these annual conferences. In his address to the more than 300 tribal nations represented at the Wednesday conference, Obama committed to continuing to build relationships with Native Americans based on trust and respect. “While we should be proud of what we accomplished in the last five years, we must remain focused on the work we still have to do,” the president said.
Obama outlined four priorities to keep the government-to-government pledge strong: justice and tribal sovereignty; increased economic opportunity; quality affordable health care; and stewardship of sacred tribal lands. “These priorities will be the foundation to build on and achieve the progress necessary to keep the covenants between us strong,” he concluded.