by Debbonnaire Kovacs

Chairman Brian Cladoosby of the Swinomish Tribal Community (and head elder of the Lummi Seventh-day Adventist church) was recently chosen to introduce President Obama at the Fourth Annual White House Tribal Nations Conference. This conference, initiated by Obama during his first term, is an important landmark in Federal relations with Native Nations and tribes. According to Cladoosby, Obama had made a commitment before he was elected that he would meet with tribal leaders. He invited leaders of all 566 tribes to come to Washington, D. C. to meet with him. Cladoosby also says he was told that the meetings during these past four years are the only time the president has had so many of his cabinet members under one roof. “And it was to meet with tribal leaders, making sure his cabinet members in the highest level of government are there to hear our concerns,” the chairman said.

Possibly this sense of being listened to and heard is one of the most important outcomes of the conferences and one of the most powerful influences in native communities. But Cladoosby has said before that there is more—that this administration “has done more for Indian Country than all the presidents in my years of leadership.” So AT asked him for specifics.

Three items sprang immediately to his mind. “Obama has appointed Native Americans in more key positions than we’ve ever seen,” said Cladoosby. “He’s settled decades-old lawsuits that have been out there for years. And he passed the Indian Healthcare Improvement Act—passed it forever, so that we don’t have to keep bringing it up every few years and trying to get it passed again.”

Specific examples of lawsuits are the Cobell Settlement, a multi-billion dollar settlement of a class action suit accusing the government of mismanaging Indian trust lands and funds; and the Keepseagle Settlement, a $760,000,000 settlement of damages resulting from discrimination in Native farmers’ and ranchers’ access to the low-interest loans and farm assistance their white neighbors could get. This settlement also makes changes that will make these kinds of farm assistance more readily available to Natives.

The Indian Health Care Improvement Act (IHCIA) was the main legal authority for the provision of health care to American Indians and Alaska Natives until 2000, when authorization of appropriations for the IHCIA expired. Various versions of the bill have been considered by congress, but the IHCIA was made permanent when President Obama signed the bill on March 23, as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and now it has no expiration date.

When asked if he knew why he had been chosen to introduce the president, Cladoosby said, “I have no idea what process they went through to choose little old Swinomish and little old Brian Cladoosby, but I give God the credit. He said he’ll put you before kings and princes.” The chairman expressed his gratitude to a White House official and was told, “You are adored by many.” This was by no means the first time government officials had met the chairman.

In March, 2012, Adventist Today reported on Chairman Cladoosby’s selection for the honor of receiving the coveted Native Leader of the Year award. In part, that award came because of work Cladoosby has done in improving relations between the Native American communities and the Federal government. Besides being the many-times-reelected leader of the Swinomish Tribal Community, Cladoosby is President of the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest American Indians, a 57-tribe confederacy from nine states. He was also appointed to a national committee which coordinates relations between the Federal government and tribal governments.

Two years ago, twelve leaders were chosen to have a meeting with Obama in the White House. “I was one of those twelve, and of the twelve, was chosen to co-chair the meeting with Obama,” says Cladoosby. He then turned to one of his favorite activities—joking. “There were a lot of comments about the twelve disciples, the twelve apostles, the dirty dozen. . .”

Maybe in part, that fun-loving nature is what makes Washington officials “adore” this leader. You can see him in action if you watch the youtube clip of his introduction of the president. [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hm3UXkonnO4] Maybe it’s his undoubted leadership skills, his humility, his willingness to get busy and get things done, and his obvious concern and compassion for his friends and neighbors in what he calls “Indian Country.” Chairman Cladoosby would say, though, that it’s the Creator, and that all he accomplishes is done by the power of that One who has made of one blood all the nations of the earth.