Efforts of Obama to strengthen Native American communities progressing

Washington (CNN) -- Efforts to strengthen Native American communities and improve their relationships with the federal government have already borne fruit, President Barack Obama told a group of leaders from more than 500 federally recognized tribes Thursday.

"We're making progress," Obama said at the White House Tribal Nations Conference, the second of his administration. "We're moving forward. What I hope is, we're seeing a turning point in the relationship between our nations."

He said he wants to hear more from tribes about how that can be done, whether it's through supporting education and health care on reservations, combating crime or job creation, "and that's why we're here today."

Leaders of 565 tribes were invited to the conference, the White House said.

The president said his administration has tackled some of the largest issues faced by American Indian communities, helping to create infrastructure, eliminate bureaucratic barriers and boost public health on reservations, where tribal members face rates of diseases like tuberculosis at a far higher rate than the rest of the nation.

The Justice Department, he said, is working to reform the criminal justice system on reservations. The Tribal Law and Order Act, signed by the president in July, contains measures to help fight drug and alcohol abuse on reservations, gives authorities better access to databases and improves opportunities for at-risk Native American youth.

American Indians' history has been "too often marred by broken promises and grave injustices against the first Americans," Obama said. While he acknowledged that no words can undo the damage, he said his administration aims for action to match those words.

Native Americans have been faced with a choice, he said -- abandon their heritage or accept a lesser lot in life.

"We know this is a false choice," he said. "To accept it is to believe that we can't and won't do better, and I won't accept that."


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