Salazar at Tribal Conference: Obama Administration ‘Reversed History’

By Penny Starr | December 5, 2012 | 5:24 PM EST

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar hosted the 2012 White House Tribal Nations Conference on Dec. 5, 2012 in Washington, D.C. ( Starr)

( – Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told leaders of American Indian and Alaskan tribes on Wednesday that the Obama administration has “reversed history” with the policies it has put in place over the past four years.

Salazar spoke of his recent trip to the Fort Berkhold Reservation in Minot, N.D., where he met with Tex Hall, chairman of the three affiliated tribes on the reservation, and the tribal council. Hall showed Salazar a photograph while he was at the gathering.

“It’s a very famous photograph that dates back to the late 1940s where the elders and the tribal council, members of the affiliated tribes stood in this building behind the Secretary of Interior’s desk and were signing an agreement that was giving away a part of their land to allow the major water divergence project to go forward,” Salazar said.

“In the eyes of the tribal chair, chairman select, there was a tear that was coming down his face,” he added.

“That day as we stood there with Tex and the members of tribal council, he said that we had reversed history,” Salazar said.

“The tears that had flown from those eyes back to the late 1940s and the broken promises of America, generation after generation, that under Barack Obama we had made an 180-degree change and now there was hope and opportunity for all of Americans, including Native Alaskans and Native Americans across the country,” Salazar said. “So we are very proud of what happened that day.”

At that meeting with tribal leaders, Salazar announced that the first oil and gas refinery to be built in the lower 48 states in 40 years would be built on the reservation.

President Barack Obama spoke at the 2012 White House Tribal Nations Conference on Dec. 5, 2012 in Washington, D.C. It is the fourth year the Obama administration has held the conference. ( Starr)

For the fourth year in a row, the Obama administration invited leaders from the 566 federally recognized tribes to attend a tribal conference in Washington, D.C.

President Barack Obama also spoke at the 2012 White House Tribal Nations Conference, telling the tribal leaders that their values “to cherish the Earth and each other, honor ancestors and preserve traditions” are American values.

“In fact they’re not just values cherished by Native Americans, these should be and are American values, and they lie at the heart of some of our country’s greatest challenges,” Obama said.

“To rebuild the middle class, to build ladders of opportunity for everybody who’s working hard, to protect our planet, to leave our children something better than we inherited, to make sure Americans remain optimistic about the future and that this country of ours remains a place that no matter who you are, what you look like or where you come from, or what your last name is, you can make it here if you try,” he said.

Almost every member of Obama’s cabinet also spoke at the event, including Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and acting Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank.