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President's support an "eye-opener" for STA's Widmark

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SITKA, ALASKA
Like last year, the meeting included in-person remarks from President Obama, as well as numerous breakout sessions with administration officials ranging from Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, to various undersecretaries tasked with hearing tribal views on education, health, housing, infrastructure, public safety, tribal land, energy, and climate change.

 Widmark said that last year an atmosphere of speculation about the administration’s commitment was prevalent. Some of that was still around this year…

“But I think overall there is a commitment by the administration to work with tribes across Indian Country – maybe it’s not fast enough for some tribes – but I think judging from other presidents et cetera there’s definitely a commitment to working with tribes.”

President Obama used the occasion of the summit to announce his support for the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. Widmark says most tribal leaders were not expecting such a strong statement on the issue from the president.

 “It was well-taken by the tribes and it was – if you will – an eye opener. It was something that the president committed to, but we’ll see what happens.”

143 nations signed the UN Declaration in September 2007. The US, under President George Bush, did not. The declaration is not binding under international law, but it is considered to have considerable moral and political force. It expresses the aspirations of indigenous people around the world to improve their nation-to-nation relations.

Widmark says he left the conference believing that federal money for tribal programs will not become scarcer in the future, but it may become more competitive. He says, “We’ll play that game, and work with Congress to fight cuts.”

KCAW's Chris Todd contributed to this story.
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