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NCAI President, Other Leaders, Discuss the Shifting Political Landscape in Indian Country at Arizona Conference

Former United States Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar delivers a keynote at the Tribal Government E-Commerce conference.

National Congress of American Indians President Brian Cladoosby and other leaders from around Indian Country spoke at the third annual Tribal Government E-Commerce conference, held on February 2 at the Gila River Indian Community’s Wild Horse Pass Hotel & Casino. The Rosette, LLP American Indian Economic Development Program and Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law presented the two-day conference, whose theme was “Innovating and Reshaping the Borders of Indian Country.”

Cladoosby is asking Indian Country leaders to be prepared with detailed infrastructure projects if, or when, President Donald Trump announces a potential billion-dollar infrastructure plan to help the country.

“Please be ready for that,” urged Cladoosby. “When President Obama had his shovel-ready project implementation done about eight years ago, some tribes were on the ball and took advantage of that, and some others were left behind. It’s very important that we, here in Indian Country, try to get ahead of the curve.”

Cladoosby was part of a panel titled “The Shifting Political Landscape in Indian Country.”

NCAI is nonpartisan and Cladoosby is often the leader in communication with the White House on the behalf of Native American people. “I’ll do everything I can to make sure our voices are heard,” he said.

Also part of the panel was Kory Langhofer, managing attorney at Statecraft, PLLC, and a member of Donald Trump’s campaign and transition teams. He encouraged the audience to give the new president and his administration a chance and to reach out.

“I think you’ll find that they will be interested in your issues and interested in finding ways that you can work together,” Langhofer said.

“When it comes to the [Trump] Administration, big-picture policy goals, what you see is exactly what you get.”

Trump’s big push, Langhofer said, will be jobs, immigration and security-type matters. Jobs will come from energy production related to drilling and extraction, as well as construction and contracting infrastructure.

“The president believes very personally that people find dignity and meaning in work,” Langhofer said. “If our jobs are gone overseas, if people can’t find good work here to support themselves and the their communities, it just has a cancerous effect on the country. He wants more and better jobs.”

Cladoosby stressed the importance of telling the Trump administration Native American stories.

“We need to get behind this administration, whether we like it or not,” Cladoosby said. “We need to support this administration; we need to educate this administration. We need to tell our story to this administration. This president is our president. This Congress is our Congress. They are our trustees, and we need to let them know that.”

Former Obama Cabinet Member Ken Salazar Talks Obama Years

As he was in 2008, Ken Salazar expected to be busy on a national scale not long after Election Day 2016.

The former U.S. Secretary of Interior under President Barack Obama was selected to lead Hillary Clinton’s White House transition team. But that wasn’t meant to be for Salazar, or Clinton, as Donald Trump won the presidential election on November 8.

Salazar, a partner of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr, LLP (WilmerHale), shared the story in his keynote speech at the Tribal Government E-Commerce Conference on February 2. He served the Obama Administration from 2009 to 2013. A Colorado native, he represented that state as a U.S. Senator before heading to Washington, D.C., and before that he served as Colorado’s attorney general.

Back after the 2008 election, President-elect Obama called Salazar asking if he would be a member of his cabinet. Initially, Salazar said no, but after sitting down with President-elect Obama in Chicago, Salazar changed his mind. Salazar said the discussion ranged over a variety of items, including Indian Country and its agenda, especially potentially settling a lawsuit against the U.S. brought by Elouise Cobell (Blackfeet) in 1996.

“I was motivated to do that (join Obama’s cabinet) in large part because of the work we would do in the Native American world and the new beginning that we envisioned for the relationship of the United States and Indian Country,” Salazar said.

The Cobell lawsuit was settled for $3.4 billion in 2009, with nearly half of the funds allocated to the thousands of plaintiffs and $1.9 billion allocated to the Trust Land Consolidation Fund, known as the Land Buy-Back Program. Some money also went to scholarships for Native American students.

Other lawsuits followed, some related to water rights in the Southwest. More than 80 tribal trust cases were resolved under the Obama administration, Salazar said.

“Let’s make sure we are doing the right things and correcting the wrongs of the past by the United States of America,” Salazar said.

Salazar resigned as Secretary of the Interior at the start of Obama’s second term and was replaced by Sally Jewell.