Frmr. Senator Tom Daschle re-caps the S.D. Tribal leaders Meeting with Barack Obama

Sen. Tom Daschle (D-SD)

Sen. Tom Daschle (D-SD) introduces presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) at the Sioux Falls Arena.

Interview and photo by Lise Balk King

Sioux Falls, South Dakota, May 16, 2008

The Native VOICE:

Can you give us a wrap up about what happened in the closed-door meeting with the South Dakota tribal leaders?

Senator Tom Daschle:

Well, first of all I think it was an important opportunity for Barack to hear directly from many tribal leaders from the upper Great Plains, especially South Dakota, without interruption and without the normal throngs of outside pressures. It was a very quiet and very thoughtful discussion about issues effecting Indian Country. Secondly, it was an opportunity for the tribal chairmen and other tribal leaders to hear directly, in his own words, from Barack Obama about his vision for Indian country, about his priorities effecting the government-to-government relationship that we think is very important.

The Native VOICE:

Were there any issues that were dealt with that were specific to the tribes in South Dakota that were unique to the tribes in SD?

Daschle:

I don’t think that there were any specific things about South Dakota, except that Barack mentioned that South Dakota in particular is well positioned to be a significant contributor to alternative energy development and that energy for tribes in South Dakota could be as big as gaming has been for tribes in other parts of the country.

The Native VOICE:

We know this has been a major focus of yours. Would you like to touch on why you’ve been encouraging tribes to get involved in alternative energy development?

Daschle:

Well first of all, I think we have to be realistic in understanding that gaming won’t be as lucrative in some parts of the country as it is in others. Secondly, we also have to realize that one of our greatest assets are the natural resources that we have in Indian country. With potential for production of biofuels, solar, maybe geothermal, we have an abundance of natural resources that, if harnessed, could be extremely productive from an economic development, point of view. Third, we have a real demand for alternative energy in the country today. So given those three forces it seems to me that Indian country is very strategically located to be able to take full advantage of the effort to change our energy dependence away from foreign countries and more towards our own country.

I think that all of the Indian assets could play an important role in solving our nation’s energy and climate challenge but if that’s going to happen we have to give Indian country the tools to develop those resources, including opportunities to take full advantage of tax laws in this country that tribes can not currently avail themselves of. It’s important that they have the same opportunity to use the production tax credit, for example, that non-Indians can use today and we have to change the laws to accommodate that.

The Native VOICE:

What were some of the most important points the tribal leaders brought up? What were they most concerned with?

Daschle:

Well, I think mostly tribal leaders are concerned about insuring that the next President understands the importance of government-to-government relationships, that we understand the importance of tribal sovereignty, and that we understand the importance of the responsibility of the government to live up to its treaty obligations. This includes providing adequate resources, or help for infrastructure, to law enforcement, for education and for many of the other important pieces of the tribal agenda that have gone unaddressed for these last eight years, and they raised those priorities with Senator Obama.

The Native VOICE:

Do you think there was anything that was new information for him that was brought out during the tribal leaders meeting, that was sort of a surprise?

Daschle:

I think he might have been surprised a little bit about the depth of the concern for the bureaucracy and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and how unresponsive they are oftentimes to the challenges that tribes face today.

The Native VOICE

What was his response?

Daschle:

His response was that we’ve got to streamline the federal bureaucracy, we’ve got to find other ways to communicate, including having an Indian Summit and having a senior policy advisor in the White House who can help augment cutting through the bureaucracy and getting the job done.

The Native VOICE:

Did the power of the Native Vote in South Dakota come up in the conversation?

Daschie:

Yes it came up quite a bit. We talked about the power of the Native Vote and recent elections in South Dakota and around the country, the power of the Native Vote this year in particular, and it was very important. Discussion was also focused on Native American Heritage Day and the importance of that day, and recognizing the need for continued improvement in relations between indian and non-indian people.

The Native VOICE:

There were a lot of comments made by Sen. Obama to the tribes, promises of changes and intentions. Was there anything he was asking of the tribal leaders that they offered in return?

Daschfe:

I think that Barack Obama asked of the tribal leaders three things. First, he said was appreciative of their support for those who have already expressed it, and he was hopeful that the tribes could make a real effort in getting out the vote in this important election. Secondly, that they continued to advise him on matters of import to Indian people all over the country. Third, that we begin to build a very constructed relationship between tribes and Senator Obama that could, if he were to be elected President of the United States, that it could serve as the basis of a new relationship between the President and tribal leaders.

The Native VOICE:

Thank you so much.

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