American Indian leaders told Clinton administration Cabinet members Thursday they want more federal cooperation in solving the problems confronting their tribes across the nation.
Attorney General Janet Reno and Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt attended the opening session of the two-day National American Indian Listening Conference, a followup to President Clinton's recent Washington meeting with tribal leaders.Richard LaFromboise, chairman of the Turtle Mountain Band of the Chippewa tribe from Aberdeen, S.D., was one of the most outspoken of the leaders representing about 200 tribes from 33 states.
"The core of all our problems is the reluctance of the federal government to become involved in our problems," he said. "It seems that we have to make a scene before they will react."
Among the issues confronting tribal governments are religious freedom, the relationship of tribal and federal justice systems, gambling on reservations and the issues of land and water resources.
Several tribal leaders said the federal government has a conflict of interest in trying to represent tribes in water rights cases. They said the tribes should be able to represent their own rights.
"We have a feeling that water is for the rich people and golf courses and not for Indians," said LaFromboise.
Reno made only brief remarks opening the session, saying the Clinton administration was trying to open a new era of cooperation and commitment with American Indians.
The purpose of the Listening Conference is to provide a forum for tribal leaders to speak on select issues involving the Department of Justice and the Department of Interior.
"Our goal at the Listening Conference is to listen so that we hear the independent thinking of tribal leaders on crucial issues facing American Indians today," Reno said in a statement announcing the meeting.
"We also hope to affirm our commitment to strengthening the nation-to-nation relationship we have with tribal governments."
Henry Cisneros, secretary of Housing and Urban Development, was meeting with the tribal leaders on Friday.