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The Historic Obama Tribal Summit: Uphold the Spirit of America's Founding

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On this week of Veteran's Day 2009, Indian Country witnessed the historic meeting of the Obama administration with Indian tribes on November 5, 2009. What should have been a national celebration was a staid, meaningless political affair. Indian country felt excluded, Mr. President. We have powwows, we celebrate, we eat, we dance. Our drums are the powerful heartbeat of this nation.

As things go in Washington, the meeting was a rushed affair. This is very understandable and noting there has been an outpouring of tribal sympathies--this year's President's closing address was cut short by the tragedy in Fort Hood, Texas. President Obama delivered a few short remarks--less than five minutes, at the Department of the Interior before rushing to attend to the aftermath of the tragedy. That being said; the tribal summit of 2010 must rise in relevance, importance and in spirit. I cannot help but note the White House Halloween party seemed to garner more effort from the Obama White House. Please invite the Indian children to the White House next year during the summit, they are a part of this nation's legacy.

I am a candidate for the U.S. House in 2010 in the state of Montana. I am an otherwise private person about my convictions, but I think there's relevance in addressing a couple of issues that hopefully will be corrected by next year's summit. I am an Ojibwe traditionalist--meaning that I follow the Peace Pipe spiritual tradition of the Ojibwe people--my main tribal lineage. Our spirituality was hard fought for by ancestors in a country where the government and church worked systemically and in a genocidal manner to eradicate all vestiges of tribal culture. This fact is irreconcilable in a nation that guarantees freedom of religion. Our past is a tragic reminder of cultural and racial exclusion; today is a new day.

My ancestry originates from the Great Lakes. Our experience with tribal dispossession most profound; the preservation of the Thirst Lodge (Sun Dance) and the Midiiwiin, or Grand Lodge was no small feat. People suffered greatly; through starvation, land loss, and cultural disruption. This made the Peace Pipe faith (not the same as the Native American Church--two distinct and separate faiths) more important than ever before; it is all the more precious to my tribe. Government policy post -1934 to the early 1970s (Self Determination Act of 1973)--entrenched an assimilation dogma and tribes reached the brink of losing cultural competency. My late Father, Uncle and others were land dispossessed Ojibwe leaders retrenching their efforts to keep the last of our cultural traditions alive for future generations. I am happy to say they succeeded. Many of the songs of the great Thirst Lodges of the Montana region come from this small band of Ojibwe--one element of a disrupted culture saved.

The Peace Pipe culture and the vast tribal cultural array of civilizations pre-date the "city on the hill" Christian ideology. This inter-tribal array of entities are the original givers of nationhood in the truest sense. The earliest Eastern treaties pre-date the U.S. Constitution. Treaties were always sealed with a Peace Pipe ceremony. No President, to my knowledge--ever participated in a Peace Pipe ceremony, despite the fact this is the original source of his power, existence and authority. This is the original source of nationhood--the U.S. simply would not exist without the underlying foundation of the U.S.-tribal treaty relationship. Instead, the Peace Pipe is often mocked as with other aspects of tribal culture; we are the only race of people turned into sports mascots. A famous euphemism often bantered about casually is "they smoked the peace pipe," to indicate a conflict has been ironed out.

The Obama tribal summit seemed out of whack and culturally inappropriate on several levels. A press picture circulated by Lee Newspapers depicts a tribal leader donning a full plains style warbonnet raising his hand to ask President Obama a question. I believe this is the leader of the Three Affiliated Tribes of North Dakota; (who went on to give the President the headdress). It took me a couple of minutes to digest just how culturally inappropriate that was. Our native leaders wearing the warbonnets of eagle feathers; should never be put on the level of having to raise their hand--to anybody. Tribal leaders of these original nations were treated like the White House press corps. President Obama missed a great opportunity to begin to restore the nation-to-nation relationship; he chose to follow the same failed path of his white predecessors. When he greets foreign heads of state--they are accorded formal reception and there is a stature of equality, there is a photo opportunity with both leaders seated side by side. Obama must stand out.

The stage craft matters and the culturally appropriate manner of discourse matters most. I call for a grand peace pipe ceremony to start next year's summit--led by an elder from a tribe knowledgeable about the peace pipe traditions. My late Father, a keeper of the sacred pipe tradition, and who led a plains Indian cultural renaissance had a saying that holds here; "Indian people should always be accepted on our terms as people from an original culture--accept us for who and what we are--not what you think we should be." We are co-founders of this nation, and the givers of an American reality spanning a five centuries. The respect owed has been well earned. As a native American leader and traditional woman who carries the Ojibwe women's peace pipe, this is my way of life for which a life time of preparation and training has gone into; I would like to see next year's summit improved to reflect the historical significance of native people in a culturally meaningful way. I will be glad to help, this is a standing offer.

View Parts II and III here:

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