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Obama to Native Americans: "You will not be forgotten"

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama told Native American leaders on Thursday, “You will not be forgotten” and promised to end U.S. government neglect and broken promises toward Indian tribes.

President Barack Obama talks to Carl Venne, chairman of the Crow tribe, at a campaign rally in Crow Agency, Montana May 19, 2008. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

Obama, who drew high Native Americans support in last year’s presidential election, fulfilled a campaign pledge by bringing representatives of hundreds of federally recognized Native American tribes to Washington to air their grievances with senior administration officials.

Acknowledging a historically troubled relationship, Obama pledged to work with tribal leaders to address healthcare, crime, development, education and environmental problems.

“Few have been more marginalized and ignored by Washington for as long as Native Americans, our first Americans,” Obama said. “I’m absolutely committed to moving forward with you and forging a new and better future together.

“You will not be forgotten as long as I’m in this White House,” he told a cheering crowd of more than 500 at the Department of the Interior.

Most in the audience were in business attire; a few wore traditional headdresses, embroidered vests and hair feathers.

A tribal leader from Wisconsin gave Obama the Indian name “He Who Cares,” and a man who rose wearing a war bonnet told the president he wanted to him to have it.

Several speakers, in a question-and-answer session, thanked Obama for trying to restore trust but urged him to do more.

Obama drew on his own narrative, noting he was born to a teenage mother and a father who left when he was 2 years old.

“I understand what it means to be an outsider,” he said.

Noting that some reservations had 80 percent unemployment and that a quarter of Native Americans lived in poverty, Obama signed a presidential memorandum in front of the crowd instructing cabinet members to outline within 90 days how they will improve relations with Indian tribes.

He said the document would reactivate a Clinton-era order that the Bush administration had mostly ignored.

Editing by Alan Elsner