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Blog Category: Indian Country

Working Together with Indian Country

Photo of Senior Adviser Dee Alexander

Guest blog post by Dee Alexander, Commerce's Senior Adviser on Native American Affairs

Last month, Acting Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank signed the “Tribal Consultation and Coordination Policy," (PDF) which establishes the manner in which the Department works with federally-recognized Indian tribes when developing Department policies that have tribal implications.

The Consultation Policy follows from President Obama’s Presidential Memorandum on Tribal Consultation from November 2009 which strengthens former President Bill Clinton’s Executive Order on “Consultation and Coordination with Indian Tribal Governments” (PDF). Upon signing, President Obama stated the importance of the Presidential Memorandum: “History has shown that failure to include the voices of tribal officials in formulating policy affecting their communities has all too often led to undesirable and, at times, devastating and tragic results. By contrast, meaningful dialogue between Federal officials and tribal officials has greatly improved Federal policy toward Indian tribes.

Secretary Bryson Delivers Remarks at National Congress of American Indians

Secretary Bryson delivering remarks from dais

Today, U.S. Commerce Secretary John Bryson delivered remarks at 2012 Executive Council Winter Session of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), the oldest and largest national representative of Tribal Nations in the United States. Bryson spoke about Commerce Department initiatives to promote exports, job creation and infrastructure in Indian Country.
 
This administration is proud to partner with NCAI in the effort to forge new links between government and Indian country on behalf of Native American communities. At the Commerce Department, we have a host of programs where Commerce and Native American communities are working together to bring jobs and opportunities to Indian country:

  • The Minority Business Development Agency helps Native American-owned companies in growing their businesses. Over the past several decades, MBDA has worked with approximately 80 percent of the tribes and assisted over 25,000 Indian enterprises.
  • The Commerce Department has the lead federal role in implementing the President’s National Export Initiative, which aims to double exports by Native Americans and all U.S. companies by the end of 2014. For example, we have partnered with the University of Washington to develop the global marketing capacity of Native American tribes with a focus on tribal forest operations. 
  • The Commerce Department is a lead agency in promoting the Jobs and Innovation Accelerator Challenge, an unprecedented initiative to spur economic growth through public-private partnerships. The United Tribes Technical College in Bismarck, North Dakota will receive $1.6 million grant over four years to implement the Upper Missouri Tribal Environment Risk Mitigation cluster, which includes about 20 tribes. The funds will be used to provide training and education for about 1,000 people, support over 100 environmental technician jobs, and create about 15 new businesses. 
  • Through our broadband grants investment program, we are working to increase access to high-speed Internet in Native American communities. Commerce awarded grants to five tribal authorities for infrastructure and public computer center projects, a subset of the more than 60 broadband projects that will directly benefit tribal communities. This includes funding to deploy broadband infrastructure in the Navajo Nation, in an area covering 15,000 square miles in Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico, where many residents lack even basic telephone service.
  • As part of the 2010 Census, the “Indian Country Counts Census Campaign” helped educate American Indians and Alaska Natives on the importance of returning their census forms. Overall, 5.2 million people, or 1.7 percent of the U.S. population, identified themselves as American Indian and Alaska Native. This was 27 percent increase in tribal population over 2000.

We know that the federal government doesn’t have all the answers. But we also know that by working with people on the front lines, we can help identify what works and build on that.

Obama Administration Investment Promotes Job Growth and Mitigates Environmental Risk in Tribal Communities

Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development John Fernandez Participates in the Third Tribal Nations Conference at the White House

Guest blog post by U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development John R. Fernandez

This year, President Obama hosted the third White House Tribal Nations Conference to hear directly from tribal leaders about their priorities. I had the opportunity to address some of the representatives of federally recognized tribes during a series of briefings and listening sessions hosted by the White House.

The President is committed to strengthening the government-to-government relationship with Indian Country and partnering and investing to find solutions to complex issues and to win the future for Indian Country.

Environmental challenges are affecting tribal economies. The Obama administration has taken significant steps to mitigate environmental risks and strengthen the capacity of reservations to meet the training and economic needs of their communities.

Native Americans living on reservations experience higher incidences of environmentally-related health issues than other groups, including in the upper Missouri River basin. This includes 19 reservations in Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota, along the Missouri River system and its tributaries where minerals and wildlife are abundant both in water and on land. Unfortunately, as concerns about the environment have plagued these communities, the response has not been timely or meaningful. These are areas of the country where the norm is economic depression and generational unemployment. In some cases unemployment rates approach 90 percent. The impacts of environmental degradation have contributed to stagnant business growth in these rural communities and severely limited opportunities for workers.