President Obama received an unexpected honorific before his speech with Native American tribal leaders Wednesday afternoon, with Swinomish Nation Chairman Brian Cladoosby proclaiming him "the first American Indian president."
"Think about it for a second," Cladoosby said. "The president loves basketball. He has an Indian name, he knows what it's like to be poor and he hasn't forgotten where he came from. And his theme song is 'Hail to the Chief.' I think he definitely qualifies as the first American Indian president. "
The president was addressing more than 500 tribal leaders gathered in Washington for the Tribal Nations Conference. In addition to the president, eight Cabinet members, including Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, addressed the crowd.
"We’re going to keep working together to make sure that the promise of America is fully realized for every Native American," Obama said.
The president also offered an extended tribute to Sonny Black Eagle, a leader in the Crow Nation who passed away last week.
"As Sonny went from being a father to a great-great-grandfather; and as he taught his family the Crow language and his community the Crow customs; as he became a living symbol of the perseverance of the entire Crow nation, Sonny stayed true to those fundamental values to cherish the Earth and each other, to honor ancestors and preserve traditions," Obama said.
Earlier in the day, Salazar said he hoped the gathering would "send a loud and clear message to everyone that Barack Obama understands the importance of Indian Country and is committed to making sure we continue to make progress," according to The Associated Press.