Today, August 4th, is the 56th birthday of former President Barack Obama. As a way to celebrate the contributions of Barack Hussein Obama II, who served as the 44th President of the United States from 2009 to 2017 and was the first African American to hold the office, here are 10 memorable moments covered by ICMN, in no particular order.
On March 7th of 2013, President Barack Obama signed into law the reauthorized Violence Against Women Act that included tribal provisions. According to the Seattle Human Rights Commission, “This is a landmark bill not only for all women and our future generations but also for Indian tribes. This law, for the first time since 1978, restores the sovereign power of Indian tribes to criminally prosecute non-Indians for sexual assault and domestic violence crimes on Indian reservations.”
As President Obama took the stage at the 8th Annual White House Tribal Nations Conference (WHTNC) in September of 2016, National Congress of American Indians President Brian Cladoosby broke the age-old rule that presidents should never wear a hat. Moments after the President took the stage, Cladoosby wrapped Obama in a traditional blanket, then took off his own traditional cedar hat and placed it on the Presidents head.
With a huge smile, Obama tipped the cedar hat to the crowd while continuing to wear the blanket.
In October of 2016, U.S. Senators Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) celebrated a long-fought victory after President Obama signed their bill to improve the lives of Native youth. The bill created a commission called The Alyce Spotted Bear and Walter Soboleff Commission on Native Children, named for the former Chairwoman of Mandan, Hidatsa & Arikara Nation in North Dakota, and for the Alaska Native elder and statesman.
In October of 2013, and in an interview with the Associated Press, President Obama said that if he were Dan Snyder, owner of the Washington D.C. NFL franchise the Washington Redskins, he would consider changing the football team’s name.
“If I were the owner of a team and I knew that there was a name of my team–even if it had a storied history–that was offending a sizeable group of people, I’d think about changing it,” Obama explained.
In May of 2016, The bison officially joined the bald eagle as a national symbol through The National Bison Legacy Act. The act designated the iconic animal as the U.S.’s national mammal by law.
President Barack Obama signed the bill on May 9 that had received congressional support on both sides after the House of Representatives passed it on April 26 and the Senate on April 28.
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On June 13 2014, as President Barack Obama and the First Lady Michelle Obama made their way to visit the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota and meet with Tribal leaders, Indian country came out in full force to recognize the efforts of the Obama Administration.
During President Barack Obama’s visit to Standing Rock alongside First Lady Michelle Obama, President Obama met with Native children and youth and later vowed to do what he could to affect Indian country in a positive way. Later, the first lady hosted the first White House Tribal Youth Gathering with over 1,000 Native youth in attendance.
Members of the Obama administration cabinet confirmed the President redoubled his efforts to improve the lives of Native people.
Then Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell told ICMN that Barack Obama told her “Don’t forget about the Indians.”
Before the 2013 White House Tribal Nations Conference scheduled in November of 2013, President Barack Obama sat down with a dozen tribal leaders including ICMN publisher Ray Halbritter to discuss job creation and economic development in tribal communities.
Tribal leaders met with Obama and members of his administration, including Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, Senior Advisor to the President Valerie Jarrett, White House Domestic Policy Council Director Cecilia Muñoz, Director of the National Economic Council Gene Sperling and Director of the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs David Agnew.
In September of 2013, President Barack Obama nominated a Native American to serve on the federal bench. The president announced September 19 that Diane J. Humetewa as a nominee for the U.S. District Court for Arizona. She is a Hopi citizen, and from 2002 to 2007 she served as an appellate court judge for the Hopi Tribe Appellate Court.
In November of 2015, President Barack Obama surprised an auditorium filled with tribal leaders, government department officials, reporters and Native youth when arrived earlier than expected and walked on stage to join five native youth at the closing of the 7th Annual White House Tribal Nations Conference.
When the President got on stage, he didn’t immediately step up to the podium to deliver his remarks. Instead, sat down alongside the five youths. Obama then turned to basketball star Jude Schimmel and asked, “Am I supposed to make remarks first, or are you going to say something?”
Schimmel laughed and said, “I think we can do whatever you want.”
In September of 2016, White House staff members reached out to ICMN’s Vincent Schilling and Ray Cook and arranged for the President to submit an opinion-editorial regarding his last address at the Tribal Nations Conference. An earlier editorial on Eloise Cobell was similarly arranged by ICMN’s Ray Cook and ICMN’s Rob Capriciosso and Chris Napolitano during his last Presidential campaign.
President Obama stated in part: “This week, I hosted my eighth and final White House Tribal Nations Conference as President, a tradition we started in 2009 to create a platform for people across many tribes to be heard. It was a remarkable testament to how far we’ve come.
It was just eight years ago when I visited the Crow Nation in Montana and made a promise to Indian country to be a partner in a true nation-to-nation relationship, so that we could give all of our children the future they deserve.”
Follow Vincent Schilling (Akwesasne Mohawk) – ICMN’s Arts and Entertainment, Pow Wows and Sports Editor Follow @VinceSchilling