A very proud day for all of us...
Crow Tribe adopts candidate Obama in historic visit
Senator commits to have an American Indian policy adviser
By BECKY SHAY
Of The Gazette Staff
CROW AGENCY - If elected president, Sen. Barack Obama will "shake up" the bureaucracy of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and appoint American Indians to be his White house advisers, he promised the Crow Tribe during a rally here Monday.
Obama called his visit to Crow Agency "one of the most important events we've had in this campaign."
While on the reservation, Obama was adopted into the Crow Tribe and given the Indian name, "One who helps people throughout the land."
Obama was escorted into the park by Hartford "Sonny" and Mary Black Eagle, parents of tribal vice chairman Cedric Black Eagle, who adopted him into the tribe. The adoption makes Obama a member of the Whistling Water Clan and a child of the Newly Made Lodge.
"Barack Black Eagle, that is a good name," Obama said, and then made listeners laugh as he struggled to pronounce the tribal name for Crow people, Apsaalooke.
"I was just adopted into the tribe," he said. "I'm still working on my pronunciations. "
Crow Chief of Police Ed Eastman said organizers planned for 3,000 people and estimated that many filled Apsaalooke Veterans Park for Obama's talk.
During a speech of about 15 minutes, Obama promised that as president his Indian policy would start with honoring the unique government-to- government relationship tribes are entitled to have with the United States. He also committed to an American Indian policy adviser on his staff and to holding an annual summit to ensure tribal needs are met.
The BIA sometimes acts like a bureaucracy that's not aware of what happens in the day-to-day lives of Indian people.
"We need to shake up that bureaucracy, " he said, drawing cheers.
Crow Chairman Carl Venne lauded Obama for his work on the Indian Healthcare Improvement Act, which updated Indian health care legislation for the first time in 16 years when the Senate passed it this winter.
He asked Obama, as president, to back the United Nations' Declaration of Rights of Indigenous People; put resources into respecting the treaty process; include tribal representation when formulating policy that affects Indian Country and to meet regularly with tribal leaders.
Venne also asked Obama to be the first president to appoint an American Indian Secretary of the Interior, the federal department which oversees Indian Country programs.
"It is only right," Venne said.
Obama said he would not be elected and just sit in Washington, but would work to fulfill promises made on the campaign trail.
He talked about being born to a teenage mother and said his father left the family when Obama was 2. The family faced financial struggles, and there were times as a black child in Hawaii that he was viewed as an outsider from mainstream society - problems known to many who live in Indian Country.
"I want you to know that I will never forget you," he said.
Before the rally, Venne called Obama's visit historic. He is the first presidential candidate to visit the Crow Indian Reservation. A president hasn't visited Crow Country, however some recalled Lady Bird Johnson visiting when she was first lady.
"We're thrilled about him coming," Venne said.
Venne said he has read Obama's book and thinks he understands Indian Country.
"We're anxious," for him to be elected, Venne said. "I think change is in the wind."
Venne said when he met alone with Obama before the rally, he would ask the candidate how Indian tribes can help him bring disenfranchised people in Indian Country into the fold so they can afford to buy homes and get quality medical care.
"We want to become self-sufficient and be part of this great society," Venne said.
Venne and Obama both believe that all Americans are equal, regardless of race or ethnicity, he said.
"Too long this country has been divided," Venne said. "This is a red state. This is a blue state. As the senator says, it doesn't matter, we're all American."
Obama said it's up to the people to elect someone who'll do what's right for American Indians.
"And since now I'm a member of the family, you know I won't break my promises to my brothers and sisters."
Contact Becky Shay at bshay@billingsgazet te.com or 657-1231.
Published on Tuesday, May 20, 2008.
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