Thursday talking to American Indians' tribal leaders, President Barack Obama said they have a place in his White House and on his agenda. He said their marginalized community deserves more from its government.
"I get it. I'm on your side," Obama told the largest gathering of tribal leaders in U.S. history.
Obama devoted part of his own time Thursday and even more of his administration's attention toward renewing relations with American Indians. He opened a conference that drew leaders from 386 tribal nations — the first meeting of its kind in 15 years — and he ordered every Cabinet agency to take more steps toward more cooperation.
The effort amounted to a campaign promise kept by Obama, who got significant support from Native Americans on his way to the White House. It comes as American Indians remain entrenched in a class-action lawsuit against the federal government, claiming the government has long swindled them out of land royalties, The Associated Press reports.
It was also reported, Obama promised to work with the tribes on a nation-to-nation basis and to respect their sovereignty.
"Tribal nations do better when they make their own decisions," he said. "That's why we're here today."
The president acknowledged a long history of abuse and neglect by the federal government. "Treaties were violated," he said. "Promises were broken. You were told your lands, your religion, your cultures, your languages were not yours to keep."
Given the past, Obama said he wouldn't have been surprised if the leaders hadn't come today, saying it showed "an extraordinary leap of faith," The New York Times reports.
News agencies also report, Obama drew on his own narrative, noting he was born to a teenage mother and a father who left when he was 2 years old.
"I understand what it means to be an outsider," he said.
Noting that some reservations had 80 percent unemployment and that a quarter of Native Americans lived in poverty, Obama signed a presidential memorandum in front of the crowd instructing cabinet members to outline within 90 days how they will improve relations with Indian tribes.
He said the document would reactivate a Clinton-era order that the Bush administration had mostly ignored, Reuters reports.