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Obama to appoint senior advisor on Native Americans

The president will soon name a White House advisor to work with tribes on issues central to the well-being and prosperity of Native Americans, First Lady Michelle Obama says.

February 10, 2009|Mark Silva

WASHINGTON — President Obama is preparing to appoint a policy advisor to his senior White House staff to work with Native American tribes on issues central to their well-being and prosperity, First Lady Michelle Obama said Monday on a visit to the Interior Department.

The advisor would work with tribes and across the government on issues such as sovereignty, healthcare and education, Obama said.

Native Americans have "a wonderful partner in the White House right now," the first lady said.

An aide said that the administration would probably make the appointment in the next few weeks.

The first lady, embarking on a tour of all the federal agencies, was greeted with a traditional tribal "honor song" and wrapped in a bright lavender shawl.

Nedra Darling, director of public affairs for Interior and a spokeswoman for the office of the assistant secretary for Indian Affairs, draped the shawl over Obama's shoulders.

Washington is "a hard place to live and work," said Darling, a member of the prairie band of the Potawatomi tribe from a reservation north of Topeka, Kan.

She said the song and shawl will give the first lady "strength and courage and duration through her tenure and beyond."

The "honor song" and a handful of others were played by the seven-member Black Bear Singers drum band -- with one Indian Affairs employee, one from the National Museum of the American Indian and area residents from outside the government.

"We truly are the department of America," Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said of his agency.

The department will help make the nation energy independent and will help empower Native American communities, said Salazar, a former senator from Colorado.

"I wanted to come by to simply say thank you," said Michelle Obama, who has delivered a similar message at the departments of Housing and Urban Development and Education in making the rounds of the agencies.

"It's a simple message, but it's one that we think is important to deliver."

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mdsilva@tribune.com

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