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Leader says tribes stronger through self-determination

BY CHRIS CASTEEL Published: January 30, 2010

WASHINGTON — Saying the first year of President Barack Obama’s administration has given new hope to Indian country, the president of the National Congress of American Indians on Friday called on Washington to give tribes the freedom they need to succeed.

Chickasaw Nation Lt. Gov. Jefferson Keel said sovereignty "is the self-determined path to economic growth and to addressing chronic unemployment, education, crime and so many of the problems our citizens face in their daily lives.”

Keel, speaking at the National Press Club, gave a mostly forward-looking State of Indian Nations address. Though he mentioned persistent problems in Indian country — chronic unemployment and high rates of diseases, such as diabetes — he didn’t dwell on them.

"Our people are suffering, but our spirit is not broken,” the Oklahoman said. "We have endured centuries of neglect and abuse. Yet we remain steadfast in our journey toward self-reliance.”

Keel praised the Obama administration for holding the White House Tribal Nations Conference last fall and for its focus on tribal consultation in the executive branch.

"As they say in Washington, we are taking our rightful place at the table, and we are seeing progress,” he said.

He credited Congress with including tribal needs in national health care legislation and with providing money for tribal projects in the stimulus bill.

Earlier this week, U.S.


→Reducing the bureaucracy that delays energy development and other business development on Indian lands.

→Giving tribes the same tax status that states and cities have for bonds, pension plans and other financial instruments.

→Fixing the coordination and funding problems that hinder effective law enforcement on Indian land.

→A remedy to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that the Interior Secretary doesn’t have the authority to take land into trust for tribes that weren’t under federal jurisdiction before 1934.

To see a related video, go to and search for "Keel.”


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