In Defense of Going to the White House to Meet with President Trump

Chairman Aaron Payment is on lower right with back to camera.

Guest Commentary

Published July 10, 2017

Editor’s Note: On Wednesday, June 28, 2017, the following tribal leaders met at the White House with President Trump and Energy Secretary Rick Perry: Governor Bill Anoatubby, Chickasaw Nation; Speaker LoRenzo Bates, Navajo Nation Council; Chairperson Jo Anne Battise, Alabama-Coushatta Tribe; Chief Gary Batton, Choctaw Nation; Chairman Luke Duncan, Ute Tribe; Councilman Kevin Frost, Southern Ute Tribe; Herman Honanie, Hopi Nation; Chairman Alvin Not Afraid, Crow Tribe and Chairman Aaron Payment, Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians.

The tribal round table was held during the week the White House dubbed “Energy Week” when the administration would discuss its plans on dealing with energy.

Many American Indians proclaimed their dismay that tribal leaders would meet with the unpopular President Trump.

Chairman Aaron Payment, Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians released the following statement in defense of his attendance at the White House meeting:

Some are complaining that I crossed some green line by meeting with the President Trump in late June at the White House. Anyone who knows me, realizes I fight to protect Aki and Nibi (our Mother Earth and her life blood -water) in honor and memoriam of our ancestors and for at least the next seven generations. Giving thanks here is in my daily Anishinabe Biimaadziwin prayer I say in Anishinabe mowin.

Aaron Payment, chairperson of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe

I am not going to get into a back and forth over doing my job and representing my people. I was hired by my people to do my job and I feel I do a pretty good job doing it.

During the White House meeting, I discussed a balanced approach to using and managing our tribal resources. Most importantly, I insisted on tribal sovereign authority over our own lands and to evolve out of a Great White Father paternalistic approach. I was surprised and encouraged when the President insisted a level of continued federal oversight. I also advocated for full Great Lakes Resortation Initiative Funding (GLRI), full Treaty Rights Implementation Funds (TRI) and migrating 100 percent of EPA funds to the Department of Interior; then compacting with tribes to exercise our independence and sovereign authority.

I also gave a reminder of our Sault Ste Marie request for SOO Locks funding.

Finally, to the naysayers, meeting with one man on one day will not change my commitment to do what my people elect me to do. There are vastly more of my tribal citizens who realize the importance of exercising the opportunity to meet with the leader of the free world no matter who he or she may be.

Finally, a saying we have at NCAI (the National Congress of American Indians) is:

“If you are not at the table, you are on the menu.”

For those who just can’t get past their opposition to this President and have politely expressed their dissent, I respect your opinion but feel I have to at least try to be heard at the level of the US presidency.

I was given no shiny beads and there was no rye whiskey involved in this visit.

Aaron Payment is the tribal chairperson of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, based in Sault Ste. Michigan. With over 43,000 tribal citizens, the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe is the largest tribe east of the Mississippi and operates gaming and enterprises.  In addition to his role as tribal chairperson of his Tribe, Payment serves secretary for the National Congress of American Indians and serves on a tribal advisory board for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In August 2015, he was named to the National Advisory Council on Indian Education by President Obama.

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  1. richard smith 1 week ago

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