SALT LAKE CITY — Hoping to find collaborative solutions to issues facing Native Americans, about 400 tribal leaders and government officials gathered for a two-day state summit in Salt Lake City.
Fundamental problems — such as a lack of health care, excessive poverty or substance abuse — cannot be solved as long as tribes and government agencies engage in turf wars, said Paul Tsosie, the chief of staff for Bureau of Indian Affairs Director Larry Echo Hawk.
State and regional summits are not uncommon, Tsosie said, but the Utah gathering was somewhat unique because it was organized by Gov. Gary Herbert and other state officials.
"Tribes and states don't always get along, because you have jurisdictional issues," Tsosie said. "This opens the door for state agencies to work with the tribes, instead of against them."
Utah has five tribes, with the majority of tribal lands in northeastern Utah. Parts of the Navajo reservation are located in the southeastern part of the state.
Sometimes, solving the major issues begins with tribes and state agencies working together on projects as simple as installing a stop light on a reservation, said Shirlee Silversmith, director of the state Division of Indian Affairs.
Silversmith said the summit was an "opportunity to build partnerships, resolve differences and find common ground, with a commitment to improve the lives of our people."
Future generations need to remain the focus, Silversmith said, both through improved opportunities and preserved heritage. "It is our time to take the lead in creating a better tomorrow for our children," Silversmith said.
The tribal council chairman for the Northwestern band of the Shoshone, Jason Walker, said the value of the annual summit — it's now in its sixth year — is the opportunity for tribal leaders from all corners of the state to connect.
"We're mostly from rural areas and don't get together very often," Walker said. "We can work with various departments (from each tribe) to figure out how needs can be met. It's giving and taking, and there's a lot of learning that can be done."