U.S. President Barack Obama has followed through on a campaign promise to hold an annual meeting with American Indian leaders. The president says he wants to reverse the government's history of marginalizing the native peoples.
President Obama says Thursday's meeting is the largest gathering of tribal leaders in U.S. history. And he says he is determined to be a good partner with the 564 American Indian tribes represented at the gathering.
"You will not be forgotten as long as I am in this White House," said the president.
The gathering at the Interior Department in Washington is the first time in 15 years that a president has met with leaders of the American Indian tribes.
Mr. Obama opened the meeting by acknowledging the government's history of mistreating the Indians.
"It is a history marked by violence and disease and deprivation. Treaties were violated. Promises were broken," he said. "You were told your lands, your religion, your cultures, your languages were not yours to keep. And that is a history that we have got to acknowledge if we are to move forward," he added.
Six cabinet secretaries and several members of Congress were taking part in the day-long meeting.
Before taking questions from tribal leaders, the president signed a memorandum asking every cabinet agency to give him a detailed plan to improve the government's relations with American Indians.
"You may be skeptical that this time will be any different. You have every right to be, and nobody would have blamed you if you did not come today," he said. "But you did, and I know what an extraordinary leap of faith that is on your part. And that is why I want you to know that I am absolutely committed to moving forward with you and forging a new and better future together," he stressed.
Officials at the summit planned to discuss issues that Indians face, including poverty, housing, health care, education and public safety.
Mr. Obama says it is only the first of a number of meetings to address those issues.
"Today's summit is not lip service. We are not going to go through the motions and pay tribute to one another and then furl up the flags and go our separate ways. Today's sessions are part of a lasting conversation that is crucial to our shared future," he promised.
The president has also fulfilled a campaign promise to appoint an American Indian policy adviser to his senior White House staff.
Administration officials at Thursday's summit were expected to promote the $787 billion economic stimulus program. About $3 billion of the economic recovery money has gone to the tribes.