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(Many Paths)
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Tribal leaders are hopeful after Obama's victory
 
 
by CLIFTON ADCOCK - Tulsa (OK) World Staff Writer
 

President-elect Barack Obama, who mentioned American Indians in his victory speech Tuesday night, likely will bring positive changes to the U.S. Department of Interior and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, tribal leaders said Wednesday.

The election of the nation's first African American president, the mantra of change he brings to office and a fresh set of eyes looking at problems facing Indian Country have excited many tribal leaders, said Osage Nation Principal Chief Jim Gray.

"There's every issue under the sun that I think is open for discussion at this point," Gray said. "It's rare to be able to see such a sea change like what we saw last night happen."

Obama's election will affect the understanding of what the federal government can and should do to address problems in Indian Country and beyond, such as energy, the environment, health care, education, trust reform and economic development, Gray said.

"I think this is an exciting time for tribal leaders around the country," he said. "They may have gotten cynical or lost interest in the hope that the United States government could be a force for change in a way that can really help people in a more healthy way. Obama represents the possibilities."

Muscogee (Creek) Nation spokesman Thompson Gouge said his tribe is hoping that American Indians will have a voice in the Obama administration.

While Obama had not named members of his Cabinet and aides Wednesday, some names have been floated about as the possible head of the Department of Interior, which encompasses the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The Politico, a political news outlet, reported that Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., and environmental attorney Robert F. Kennedy Jr. might be considered for secretary of the interior, while former Democratic South Dakota Sen. Tom Daschle, physician and Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean, and former Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber could be tapped to head the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which includes Indian Health Services.

Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chad Smith said appointments to the posts are extremely important for Indian Country and that he hopes to see Obama issue a policy statement that would reflect his campaign statements to guide the people he appoints.

"Regardless of which party won, it was historic," Smith said. "It gives us a chance to grow as a nation and focus on issues that are in common rather than issues that divide."

In May, Obama broke with members of the Congression- al Black Caucus when he stated that courts should decide the Cherokee Nation's freedmen issue, rather than have Congress write legislation that would penalize the tribe for not accepting the descendents of freedmen former slaves of the Cherokees into the tribe. His position was almost identical to arguments the tribe was making on the issue.

"For us, the principle we believe that Sen. Obama adheres to is to respect tribal sovereignty and let us exercise self-governance," Smith said. "If his appointments adhere to the same principles, we should be in pretty good shape."

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