- The Washington Times - Friday, November 6, 2009

Big Chief Barack “Black Eagle” Obama on Thursday was reunited with his adoptive father, the Crow Nation leader who dubbed him Awe Kooda Bilaxpak Kuushish — “He Who Helps People Throughout the Land.”

The president, seeking to pay off on promises made on the campaign trail, had gathered leaders of 387 federally recognized American Indian tribes, and among them was Hartford “Sonny” Black Eagle Jr.

The 75-year-old Crow tribe leader and his wife of 57 years adopted Mr. Obama in May 2008, when the Democratic presidential candidate was busy locking down the Western states that would soon help him win the nomination.

Mr. Black Eagle, a man of very few words, said just three when asked how his adopted son has turned out.

“He done good,” the tribal elder from Montana said as he smoked a cigarette on the sidewalk in front of the Department of the Interior.

Inside, a third of the nation’s Cabinet secretaries presided over a day-long conference to discuss economic development, housing, education, health care and the environment with the Indian leaders.

Despite pressing business on the economy, health care and the war in Afghanistan, Mr. Obama dropped by twice, to both open and close the conference. Not unexpectedly, the president decried the treatment of native Americans during westward expansion, when settlers swept over their land and pushed them onto reservations, often on barren land.

“Few have been more marginalized and ignored by Washington for as long as Native Americans — our first Americans,” he said.

“It’s a history marked by violence and disease and deprivation. Treaties were violated. Promises were broken. You were told your lands, your religion, your cultures, your languages were not yours to keep. And that’s a history that we’ve got to acknowledge if we are to move forward,” the president said.

Although he never said the words “I’m sorry,” he promised that his administration would do better than past ones.

“I know that you may be skeptical that this time will be any different. You have every right to be and nobody would have blamed you if you didn’t come today. But you did. And I know what an extraordinary leap of faith that is on your part,” Mr. Obama said.

As a candidate, Mr. Obama worked hard to secure the Indian vote, reaching out to the small population — just 1.6 percent of America — as part of a political strategy during several critical primary battles in Western states.

While primary opponent Hillary Rodham Clinton ignored the small states, Mr. Obama pulled out big wins in Montana and South Dakota, where the Illinois senator hired former operatives of onetime Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle who had deep connections to Indian Country.

During campaign stops across the West, including several Indian reservations, Mr. Obama firmly supported sovereignty for Indian tribes and vowed better relations with the federal government.

Indians supported him in droves, and the relationship is paying off — literally. “We allocated more than $3 billion of the Recovery Act to help with some of your most pressing needs,” Mr. Obama said. “We provided more than $100 million in loans to spur job creation in tribal economies.”

Although the audience — some in feather-capped “war bonnets,” others in suit and tie — gave the president a warm welcome, a question-and-answer period grew more heated, as some pressed Mr. Obama to enforce the federal treaties with Indians. Others demanded more respect for sovereignty rights, while still others expressed concerns over environmental cleanup on Indian land and offshore drilling.

“I really don’t want to stand here and complain about we’ve been lied to again,” said one man, who identified himself as “vice president of Navajo Nation.”

Wilfred Cleveland, president of the Ho-Chunk Nation, said promises made back in 1963 were broken, “and today we come here before you with those same concerns, 46 years later.”

But the president also got much love at the event. Caroline Cannon, president for the Native Village of Point Hope, offered a hug, “but I know that’s not an opportunity right now.” Theresa Two Bulls, president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, said simply: “We love you.”

The Navajo Nation vice president even predicted that Mr. Obama would win a second term, and the president didn’t fight the notion.

“For the next eight years - the next four years at least, let me not jump the gun” - Mr. Obama said, catching himself. Then he tightened the time frame even more “three years and one month” before vowing to build a new relationship.

And he, too, recalled his adoptive parents in the Crow Nation. “I know what they’re saying now: ‘Kids grow up so fast,’ ” he said to laughter. “Only in America could the adoptive son of Crow Indians grow up to become president of the United States.”

Joseph Curl can be reached at jcurl@washingtontimes .com.


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