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American Indians and Alaska natives: history and current engagement.

Here at the Department of State, history is an ever-present part of our daily operations: long-standing rivalries ignite conflict, economic policies enacted 30 years ago influence tomorrow's trade treaty. The Office of Civil Rights is also guided daily by the historical significance of the civil rights movement, and strives to echo its message of diversity and inclusion. Part of doing so is helping the Department celebrate America's diverse history.

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During November, the federal government recognizes the contributions of American Indians as part of American Indian Heritage Month. The month's designation dates to the early 1900s when Dr. Arthur C. Parker, a Seneca Indian and Director of the Museum of Arts and Science in Rochester, New York, persuaded the Boy Scouts of America to reserve a day of acknowledgment for the "First Americans" in May. In 1914, Red Fox James, a Blackfeet Indian, rode on horseback through several states, garnering support for an American Indian Day, and in 1915, he presented the White House with the endorsements of 24 state governments. However, it was not until 1983 that Congress designated an American Indian Day. Finally, on August 3, 1990, Congress designated November as National American Indian Heritage Month.

American Indians' influence is intricately woven into American history, and that is how many people think of today's American Indian tribes--historical. Yet, American Indians and Alaska Natives are very much active in current events and even foreign affairs. In 2010, the Office of Special Representative for Global Intergovernmental Affairs, created by Secretary Clinton to work with state and local officials in the United States and led by Reta Jo Lewis, coordinated meetings between American Indian and Alaska Native tribal leaders and government agencies that contributed to the decision to support the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Declaration addressed the rights of indigenous individuals and groups in the areas of culture, identity, language, employment, health and education.

On Dec. 16, 2010, President Obama reiterated his position on the Declaration, saying, "It's a resolution I fully supported--recognizing that no statement can undo the damage that was done; what it can do is help reaffirm the principles that should guide our future." There is no way to erase the transgressions of history. However, as America goes forward, the Administration is working to partner with the American Indian community at all levels.

The Department of State has also continued to engage the American Indian community. As part of the Department's efforts to attract a diverse workforce, recruiters and Diplomats in Residence visit colleges and universities with significant American Indian enrollment. The goal is to attract strong American Indian candidates to the Pickering and Rangel fellowships; encourage internships; increase personalized contact with candidates through career fairs, information sessions, conferences and direct counseling; and effectively target communities of diverse candidates, including American Indians, through the Internet and social media. We must continue this outreach.

The President's support of the U.N. Declaration and collaboration with tribal leaders, complemented by Secretary Clinton's stance on progressive partnerships with Indian nations, has placed the Department in a great position to fulfill the proposition of partnering with American Indians and Alaska Natives on all levels.

American Indian history is American history, and as current events demonstrate, American Indians play a key part in foreign affairs. This November, we celebrate American Indian Heritage Month. We can all agree that it is an improvement from one day in May.

For more information on the Office of the Special Representative for Global Intergovernmental Affairs, visit http://www.state.gov/s/srgia.

John M. Robinson Office of Civil Rights
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Title Annotation:Diversity Notes
Author:Robinson, John M.
Publication:State Magazine
Geographic Code:1U9AK
Date:Nov 1, 2011
Words:599
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