Talk This Year; Next Year, Action

[imgbelt img=Obamatribal.jpg]President Obama said all the right things to the White House Tribal Nations Conference last week. That was good. But next year, we’ll take a tally of actions.


place in global governance and commerce. Tribes are, in the words of diplomats, part of the “international community.” 

On the world stage, in the nation’s discourse, and even in regional and local affairs, the standard is clear: Tribes have a right (if not an obligation) to have their voice heard. Seven cabinet members attended the Tribal Nations Conference and many of those federal agencies are at least going through a process of consultation with tribes. 

But beyond the specifics, a year from now the default is now set for the standard of a White House exchange with tribal leaders. The next president — indeed, all future presidents — will be pressured to engage in at least a similar, and serious dialogue. 

(This is exactly how it worked with presidential statements on tribal self-determination. Once it was a big deal, after Presidents Johnson and Nixon. Now it is expected.)

But if the standard for consultation and engagement is high, then what of the standard for execution? 

When President Obama reached the podium at the Interior Department last week nearly every person in a seat lifted a cell phone to take a picture. Row after row of glowing screens captured that moment. 

But that photo-op is no longer enough. A year ago it was a big deal to meet. But a year from now it will only be a big deal if there are success stories that add jobs, improve the health or educational opportunities for young Native Americans.

So what happens next? We need to chart the ideas that were either proposed or promised at the Tribal Nations Conference. Then, a year from now, we must tick off what was actually done. 

As President Obama said, what matters next are the actions needed to match all those words.


Mark Trahant is a writer, speaker and Twitter poet. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and lives in Fort Hall, Idaho. Trahant’s new book, “The Last Great Battle of the Indian Wars,” is the story of Sen. Henry Jackson and Forrest Gerard.