Karen Diver Updates CSS on the State of Native Nations

Special Assistant to President Obama speaks for Allworth Series

DyAnna Grondahl

The annual Allworth Peace and Justice series came to a close for the school year with a talk from Karen Diver. Diver, who served as special assistant to President Obama for Native Affairs, spoke about the historical context for the issues faced by Native Americans, the accomplishments of the Obama administration, and what the future may hold for Native nations.

Diver identified the historical trauma of Native Americans brought about by European settlers. The trauma, after being reinforced in waves, has a lingering effect. While discussing the historical treatment of Native peoples, Diver enlightened the audience about the “eras of policy” which she called Indian federal law. She discussed the irony found in treaties stating Native people were to be “equal sovereigns.” The interpretation and lack of enforcement of these treaties created much of turmoil throughout history. Several specifically mentioned treaties and acts include: The Marshall Trilogy, Indian Child Welfare Act, and Indian self-determination act.

Before talking about the accomplishments of the Obama administration, Diver discussed the difficulties found in Native nations as a result of lack of resources, historical poverty and trauma, and isolation. Among the presidents, Diver chose to talk about Nixon, Clinton, and Obama. Diver gave credit to Nixon for his work in putting the most land into trust in order to help rebuild Native homelands.

“Clinton was okay,” said Diver as she mentioned his work to mandate tribal consultations with the US government and provide more money to the nations for reconstruction.

Works for improvement in Native nations flourished during the Obama administration. Diver listed accomplishments from Obama’s “robust agenda” for Native American life improvement, including: the Land Buy Back program, the update of the Indian Child Welfare Act, and the Affordable Care Act. The audience clapped after each of these announcements of accomplishment. The most applause came from Diver mentioning Obama’s support for the UN declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples.

After an endearing story about the Obamas visiting Standing Rock, Diver told the audience that President Obama had been sincerely moved. He questioned why the kids he and the first-lady had met with didn’t have a better chance. Diver offered the answers to the crowd: racism, historical trauma, lack of infrastructure, and generational poverty.

As of now, Diver identified her cynicism, Native nations are looking at 15 percent cuts in spending for 2017 funds from the US government. When it comes to the chaos surrounding the ACA, Diver found it essential to point out that the Indian Health Service was not mentioned in the new bill. Diver didn’t point out a specific solution to the problems facing the Native nations of the United States because the issues are far too dynamic. However, she pointed out what is needed are resources, support for sovereignty, and support for the self-determination of Native nations to slowly break cycles of historical trauma.

Before she took questions, Diver offered the following quote, “None of the rest of it matters if we can’t breathe our air or drink our water.”