Q: Juliet Eilperin, WaPo -- The Interior Department just finalized a rule today that would clear the way for native Hawaiians to have a government-to-government relationship with the federal government should they form a unified government. Could you just explain why the administration is pursuing this and whether the President’s own childhood and experience in Hawaii influenced the approach the administration is taking on this issue.
A: The President took office vowing to strengthen the relationship between the United States government and tribal governments around the country, including the Native Hawaiian population.
And next week — I’m jumping ahead here — but next week the White House will convene the Tribal Nations Conference here in Washington, D.C. This is something that the President has prioritized, and he’s regularly appeared at this conference as a demonstration of the priority that he has placed on improved relations between the federal government and tribal governments.
The President obviously does have his own personal connection to the Native Hawaiian population and the rich cultural heritage of the Native Hawaiian people. The President got to experience a little of that when he traveled to Hawaii a few weeks ago. And the President believes that that cultural heritage isn’t just worthy of our respect, it’s also worth protecting. And that’s the reason that, in designating the marine monument out there, the policy was careful to ensure that local populations could continue to engage in their ancient traditions.
So I think this also — I would put this in the category of the kind of policies the President is hopeful the next president will pursue. But there’s a lot of progress that we’ve made in terms of strengthening the relationship between the federal government and a variety of tribal governments. But there’s more work to be done.
And there certainly is more work to be done in terms of supporting and empowering the next generation of Native Americans to ensure that they’ve got access to good schools and quality health care and the kind of stable home life that so many other American kids benefit from. And we’ve made some important progress, making investments that would ensure that kind of future for native populations. But there certainly is more work to be done. And the President is hopeful that the next president will build on that progress.
LINK: WaPo -- With Obama’s help, native Hawaiians may establish their first unified government since the 1890s.