Tribal leaders for tribal governments located in New York state, praised President Barack Obama’s support of a United Nations declaration defending Native American rights. They still believe that the administration can do more to improve the well-being of the country’s Indian tribes.
Seneca Nation President Robert Odawi Porter went into Thursday’s Tribal Nations Conference at the White House disappointed with Obama’s “timid” approach to Indian issues, but said he came away more confident in the administration’s commitment.
Porter went to Washington with several legislative proposals aimed at strengthening all Indian nations, including tax credits and the creation of a $1 billion Indian Country Development Bank to promote Indian entrepreneurship and tribal development.
One of Porter’s proposals would ensure that only tribes have taxing authority over tribal lands, precluding state and local governments from taxing any activities. The Senecas, along with several other New York Indian nations, are embroiled in a court challenge over New York’s efforts to tax reservation cigarette sales to non-Indian smokeshop customers.
The nonbinding U.N. declaration is intended to protect the rights of more than 370 million native peoples worldwide, affirming their equality and ability to maintain their own institutions, cultures and spiritual traditions. It sets standards to fight discrimination and marginalization and eliminate human rights violations.
Porter said that while Obama’s support of the declaration is important, the administration needs to make changes with more immediate, measurable results. The declaration “doesn’t immediately translate into channeling new wealth to Indian Country. It doesn’t channel any health care support. It doesn’t do anything, as a practical matter,” he said. “Those are the agenda items that …. are very much on the minds of every one of the tribal leaders that were there.”