Earlier this week, The White House Council on Native American Affairs, which is composed of members of more than 30 federal departments and agencies, held its first meeting in Washington D.C.
The Council, created by President Obama through an executive order on June 26, is intended to improve coordination of federal programs and the use of resources available to tribal communities.
While President Obama cited the creation of the council as an effort “to continue restoring and healing relations with Native Americans and to strengthen its partnership with tribal governments,” President Nixon’s actions during his time in office set precedent for advancing the freedoms and rights for Native Americans.
The Navajo leader, Peter MacDonald, once referred to President Nixon as “the Abraham Lincoln of the Indian people” for his work toward ensuring that Native American tribes were granted further autonomy.
President Nixon promoted a policy of “self-determination without termination,” which meant providing Native American tribes with their own sovereignty without the threat of dismantling any tribal governments or communities.
President Nixon’s stance on Native American affairs was laid down in a letter to Congress sent on July 8, 1970.
“From the time of their first contact with European settlers, the American Indians have been oppressed and brutalized, deprived of their ancestral lands and denied the opportunity to control their own destiny. Even the Federal programs which are intended to meet their needs have frequently proven to be ineffective and demeaning…The time has come to break decisively with the past and to create the conditions for a new era in which the Indian future is determined by Indian acts and Indian decisions.” – President Nixon to Congress, July 8, 1970.
By the time President Nixon would leave office, the list of accomplishments toward improving the lives of Native Americans included:
- The return of the Blue Lake Lands of New Mexico back to the Taos Pueblo Indians, in December 1970.
- The Menominee Restoration Act, signed in 1973, which restored sovereignty back to the Menominee Tribe of Wisconsin.
- The 214% increase of the Bureau of Indian Affairs Budget in 1973, which brought it to an annual total of $1.2 Billion.
- The Indian Financing Act, signed in 1974, which promoted commercial development within Native American lands.