American Indian leaders who want the federal government to move faster on easing tribal poverty said Friday they got little out of a daylong meeting with top Clinton administration officials.
Leaders of nearly 200 tribes attended the private session, which was billed as a followup to a historic meeting with President Clinton one year ago.
“Last year we got a replica of a medal. This year we didn’t even get a cup of coffee,” said Arlyn Ackley Sr., chairman of the Sokaogon Chippewa Community of Wisconsin.
Albert Hale, chairman of the Navajo Nation, said he asked his colleagues: “Are you better off now than you were one year ago?”
“The response was that we are not. … We continue to be the poorest of the poor,” Hale said.
Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt and Attorney General Janet Reno met with the tribal leaders but Clinton did not, to the displeasure of some leaders. The White House said Clinton stayed away because the meeting was a “working session.”
Ada Deer, the assistant Interior secretary for Indian affairs, said the tribal leaders expressed “pent-up frustration” built up from years of neglect by previous administrations.
“It takes time for government to move. … It takes time to overcome these many problems,” she said.
The Clinton administration released a 67-page report detailing its actions on Indian affairs since last year’s meeting, which is believed to have been the first time all the nation’s federally recognized tribes were invited to the White House.
The administration has established offices at the Environmental Protection Agency and the Justice Department to deal directly with tribal leaders. Housing Secretary Henry Cisneros also has been active in pushing for Indian housing assistance.
“There isn’t as much progress as we had hoped for, but I think it is a beginning,” said Debbie Doxtator, chairman of Wisconsin’s Oneida tribe. “This administration has taken more steps than any one in history to work more closely with the Indian tribes, so we’re very optimistic about it.”
Ivan Makil, president of the Salt River Pima Maricopa tribe in Arizona, said, “Hopefully this is the beginning of a road that is changing and that is going to be more productive for tribes.”
However, Indian leaders say the administration hasn’t done enough to adequately fund Indian programs, including housing, health care and education assistance.