Obama Pledges to Help Native American Tribes

"Only in America could the adoptive son of Crow Indians grow up to be president of the United States."

President Obama spoke those words this morning, in reaching out to Native Americans at the start of a White House Tribal Nations Conference

"I'm on your side," he told the gathering with representatives of 564 federally recognized tribes. "I know what it means to feel ignored and forgotten and what it means to struggle."

The president assured Indian Country that "you will not be forgotten as long as I'm in this White House."

Actually, the daylong conference was taking place at the Department of the Interior, but the tribal leaders understood and cheered Mr. Obama's efforts to allay their concerns that this was just another song-and-dance from the federal government designed to quell their outrage after decades of unfulfilled treaties and broken promises.

"Now I want to be clear about this," said Mr. Obama, "today's summit is not lip service. We're not going to go through the motions and pay tribute to one another and then furl up the flags and go our separate ways."

He said the conference is part of a "lasting conversation that's crucial to our shared future."

But what Mr. Obama's opening assertion that he's the adoptive son of Crow Indians?

He reminded tribal leaders that during the 2008 presidential campaign, he visited a Montana reservation and was adopted as an honorary member of the tribe.

"I like my new name: Barack Black Eagle," then-candidate Obama declared.

It was there that he promised to host an annual summit with tribal leaders and end an era of deceitful federal treatment of Native Americans.

"I promised you we'd host this conference to develop an agenda that works for your communities – because I believe Washington can't and shouldn't dictate a policy agenda for Indian country."

The president signed a memorandum giving every Cabinet agency 90 days to come up with a plan for closer consultations with and accommodations of Native Americans.

After his remarks, the Q&A session produced more complaints and appeals than questions. One after another, tribal leaders asked for new and improved federal assistance to help Indian Country deal with the problems of education, health care, pollution, land confiscations dating back a hundred years and other conditions that have befallen Native Americans.

"Working together," Mr. Obama told the gathering, "we're gonna make sure that the first Americans along with all Americans get the opportunities you deserve."

Mark Knoller is a CBS News White House correspondent. You can read more of his posts in Hotsheet here. You can also follow him on Twitter here: http://twitter.com/markknoller.
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    Mark Knoller is a CBS News White House correspondent.