Obama plans White House conference on tribal issues
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President Barack Obama will invite American Indian leaders to the White House this fall for a conference on issues facing tribal communities nationwide.

Obama announced the Tribal Nations Conference on Monday in taped remarks to the National Congress of American Indians meeting in Niagara Falls, N.Y.

"As we move forward, I want you to know that my staff and I are eager to engage with Indian Country on your priorities -- to listen to you and learn from you," Obama told the leaders from the nation's tribal governments.

The president also named Kim Teehee as senior policy adviser for Indian affairs, a new position on his Domestic Policy Council that puts tribal issues at a higher level in the White House than in previous administrations.

Teehee, who has held several positions with the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, previously worked as a senior adviser to the U.S. House Native American Caucus.

"Kim Teehee will be a tremendous asset to our team as we work to strengthen and build on the nation-to-nation relationship between the United States and tribal nations," Obama said. "She is rightly recognized as an outstanding advocate for Indian Country, and she will provide a direct interface at the highest level of my administration, assuring a voice for Native Americans during policymaking decisions."

The administration's public-lands and justice teams made headlines last week in Utah's Indian Country with a crackdown against illegal trafficking in antiquities in the Four Corners region. Two dozen people, mostly Utahns, were indicted after a two-year undercover sting operation, and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar vowed to put protection of cultural and archaeological resources "front and center."

Teehee's appointment to Obama's White House does not require congressional confirmation. The Senate did recently confirm Obama's other top choice for Indian issues, Brigham Young University law professor Larry EchoHawk, as head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

tburr@sltrib.com