Which made it all the more interesting when Salazar hailed last week’s approval as part of a greater effort “to make sure that we are turning a new page on the relationships between the United States and the nation’s first Americans.”
“President Obama directed me to make sure that the past wrongs of history were righted and that we celebrated and helped in every possible way that we could… the 566 First American Nations move forward,” Salazar added.
“Our tribal-United States relationship where there is a mutual respect between the United States of America and the sovereign nations of this country is something that we are very proud of,” the Interior secretary continued.
But Indian tribes have often been on the short end of due process and accountability in this administration.
In July, Sens. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) demanded that Salazar follow through on mandated reporting requirements and release labor statistics documenting the employment situation in Indian country — particularly as $3 billion in 2009 stimulus funds were targeted for tribal areas.
According to a July 2, 2012, letter from Acting Assistant Secretary Donald Laverdure to Indian tribal leaders, the senators wrote, the 2010 report would not be issued due to “methodology inconsistencies” and the department’s failure to provide clear direction to obtain the specific tribal information for the 2010 report.
“It is unacceptable that reports required by law to be released and the vital information contained therein are being withheld from Congress,” they wrote.
With the Interior Department website bragging about long-term economic development from stimulus investments in the Indian community, there’s no way to measure what benefit may have actually occurred — in communities where, as Laverdure testified before Congress in 2010, unemployment may reach as high as 80 percent.
The following month, Sens. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) had to urge Obama to comply with a Supreme Court ruling, in Salazar v. Ramah Navajo Chapter, that the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Indian Health Services had been underpaying contracts with Indian tribes going back to 1994.
“The time for litigation is over,” the senators wrote. “As with other recent settlements of historic claims, settlement judgments will be paid directly from the Treasury through the Judgment Fund. Neither the BIA nor the IHS will likely pay these judgments. There is, accordingly, no reason and no excuse for any further delay in resolving these claims.”
“The focus should be on making all Tribes whole, not on continuing litigation,” they stressed. Six other Democrats and Republicans co-signed the plea to Obama.
Still, Obama has been courting the support of increasingly influential and wealthier leaders of Indian tribes.
Tribes have donated about $2.5 million to Obama and $750,000 to Mitt Romney, the Los Angeles Times reported at the end of September.
Bill John Baker, principal chief of the Cherokee Nation, told Obama at a July fundraiser his Oklahoma tribe was owed $50 million in health services contracting costs, the Times reported.
Obama said “Let me look into this and see what we can do” and Baker said he got a follow-up from the White House a week later — never mind that the month before, the Supreme Court had ruled that the administration needed up keep its promises and pay up.