Obama gives final address to White House Tribal Nations Conference

Mohegan Chief Lynn Malerba, left, and Brian Cladoosby, right, President of National Congress of American Indians, cover President Barack Obama with a blanket at the 2016 White House Tribal Nations Conference, Monday, Sept. 26, 2016, at the Mellon Auditorium in Washington. (Susan Walsh/AP/The Canadian Press)
Mohegan Chief Lynn Malerba, left, and Brian Cladoosby, right, President of National Congress of American Indians, cover President Barack Obama with a blanket at the 2016 White House Tribal Nations Conference, Monday, Sept. 26, 2016, at the Mellon Auditorium in Washington. (Susan Walsh/AP/The Canadian Press)
President Barack Obama addressed his final White House Tribal Nations Conference on Monday.

The most famous Yup’ik singer on Facebook, Byron Nicholai of Tooksook Bay, welcomed Obama to the stage.

Obama said it was privilege, over his eight years in the White House, to spend time with Native people and he said he visit more tribal communities than any prior president. He cited a few Alaska examples.

“My staff still talks about all the wonderful people in Kotzebue, Alaska …. They tried to teach them Iñupiaq, and tried to stuff them full of meat at Cariboufest,” he said, tripping over the unfamiliar words. The crowd didn’t seem to mind.

Tribal Nations Conference launched by Obama

The Tribal Nations Conference, now in its eighth year, was something Obama started and it set the tone for his White House. The conference brings hundreds of Native leaders to Washington and gives them a chance to meet top officials in federal government. Another way Obama elevated Native issues was by creating the White House Council of Native American Affairs. He describes it as a permanent institution with Cabinet-level focus. No matter who wins the White House next, Obama says the young people he’s met give him confidence there’s more progress ahead.

He mentioned “the students at the middle school in Dillingham, Alaska, who taught me a traditional Yup’ik dance.”

“Show us!” someone shouted.

“Well, I can only do it when they’re around, because I’m basically just watching them,” Obama said. ” They were very patient with me.”

The Obama White House also launched an annual conference for Native youth, which begins tomorrow.

Related stories from around the North:

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Finland: Finland’s Sámi request UN help in securing their rights, Yle News

Greenland: What the EU seal ban has meant for Inuit communities in the Arctic, Eye on the Arctic

Iceland: Iceland conference draws on hopes, concerns for changing Arctic, Alaska Dispatch

Norway: Alarming situation for indigenous peoples in Russia, Barents Observer

Russia:  Russia declares another indigenous group ‘foreign agent,’ The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Swedish archbishop wants ‘truth commission’ for abuse against indigenous Samis, Radio Sweden

United States:  Arctic conference spotlights indigenous issues, Alaska Dispatch News

Liz Ruskin, Alaska Public Media

For more news from Alaska visit Alaska Public Media.

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