Obama Hosts Conference for Native American Leaders

Obama was given the honorary name Awe Kooda bilaxpak Kuuxshish, which means, "one who helps people throughout the land."

His adopted parents were Sunny and Mary Black Eagle, who appeared with him on stage during a campaign rally in May 2008.

"I like my new name, Barack Black Eagle. I mean that's a good name," Obama said then.

His adopted Crow nation parents are expected to be among the representatives coming to the Tribal Nations summit today.

The Black Eagle family are scheduled to perform the protecting and blessing ceremony, which involves activating the "spirit of the almighty to protect the president and also bless his spirit to make sound and good judgments."

The president has said that as an honorary family member, he takes his commitment seriously to Native Americans.

"I want you to know that I will never forget you," Obama said in Montana last May. "You will be on my mind every day that I'm in the White House. We will never be able, we will never be able to undo the wrongs that were committed against Native Americans, but what we can do is make sure that we have a president who's committed to doing what's right with Native Americans, being a full partner, respecting, honoring, working with you.

"That's the commitment that I'm making to you and since now I'm a member of the family, you know that I won't break my commitment," he said.

The president has often equated his feeling of being an outsider to that of the struggle of many Native Americans.

"I was growing up in Hawaii at the time and where I was growing up, there weren't a lot of black families, and so sometimes I was looked at as sort of an outsider and so I know what it's like to be on the outside," he said.

"I know what it's like to not always have been respected or to have been ignored and I know what it's like to struggle and that's how I think many of you understand what's happened here on the reservation, that a lot of times you have been forgotten just like African-Americans have been forgotten or other groups in this country have been forgotten and because I have that experience," he said.

Of top concern to many tribal leaders at the conference will be health care, housing and the high unemployment rate on reservations. The unemployment rate for Native Americans is generally believed to be at least two times the national unemployment rate.

During the campaign, Obama said one of his priorities would be increasing health funding for reservations.

"The health care on Indian reservations is terrible, and it's been consistently underfunded," said last year. "I have been a sponsor and a champion of drastically increasing health funding for the reservations and it passed the Senate, but it hasn't yet passed the House. When I'm president, I'm going to make this a priority and we're gonna make sure that bill passes."

In addition, Obama said another priority would be to address the huge problem of housing on reservations.

According to the White House, large investments have already been made into both these campaign promises: $3 billion from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has gone to reservations, and $17 billion from the fiscal year 2010 budget will go to programs with the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Indian Health Services.

But American Indian leaders say still more needs to be done and more money is needed on reservations, which face high unemployment, low rates of insurance and often poor quality health care.

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