President Barack Obama addressed his final White House Tribal Nations Conference today. The most famous Yup’ik singer on Facebook, Byron Nicholai of Toksook Bay, welcomed Obama to the stage.
Obama said it was privilege, over his eight years in the White House, to spend time with Native people and he said he visit more tribal communities than any prior president. He cited a few Alaska examples.
“My staff still talks about all the wonderful people in Kotzebue, Alaska …. They tried to teach them Iñupiaq, and tried to stuff them full of meat at Cariboufest,” he said, tripping over the unfamiliar words. The crowd didn’t seem to mind.
The Tribal Nations Conference, now in its eight year, was something Obama started and it set the tone for his White House. The conference brings hundreds of Native leaders to Washington and gives them a chance to meet top officials in federal government. Another way Obama elevated Native issues was by creating the White House Council of Native American Affairs. He describes it as a permanent institution with Cabinet-level focus. No matter who wins the White House next, Obama says the young people he’s met give him confidence there’s more progress ahead.
He mentioned “the students at the middle school in Dillingham, Alaska, who taught me a traditional Yup’ik dance.”
“Show us!” someone shouted.
“Well, I can only do it when they’re around, because I’m basically just watching them,” Obama said. ” They were very patient with me.”
The Obama White House also launched an annual conference for Native youth, which begins tomorrow.
See video of speech here.