Yocha Dehe chairman joins tribal conference with President Obama

Local tribal chairman Marshall McKay met with President Obama on Thursday, along with representatives from hundreds of other Native American tribes.

'In this new era of hope,' McKay said after the Washington, D.C., conference, 'we're excited about the idea of collaboration with the administration and actually coming up with some solutions.'

McKay heads the Tribal Council for the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, which owns Cache Creek Casino Resort.

Obama came in and spoke for about 45 minutes after an opening prayer, McKay said. Obama invited the nation's 564 federally recognized tribes, including Yocha Dehe, to visit him in Washington to talk about problems they're facing. Education, health care and sovereignty dominated, but, McKay said, the meeting itself was a clear message.

'It's a historic moment. Most of the time it's lip service,' McKay said, describing previous interactions with government. 'We would come in and complain and ask for help. They would say, 'OK, we're going to do something.' '

But, McKay said, nothing ever got done. 'It was very frustrating.'

McKay said Thursday's meeting in itself was 'action' and 'a promise to action.' By meeting with tribal leaders on Thursday, Obama fulfilled a campaign promise. 'He's following up on his word.'

Obama promised McKay and others the conference was only the beginning. 'I want to give you my solemn guarantee that this is not the end of a process but a beginning,' Obama told the crowd, according to a news release from the White House. 'We are going to follow up - This is not something that we just give lip service to.'

McKay's message to the president was that California's Native Americans need a tribal college. There are none in the state, according to the U.S. Department of Education Web site. D-Q University, located 7 miles west of Davis, was the state's only tribal college but shut down in 2005 after losing its accreditation.

'D-Q was never ever really successful, and it was unfortunate,' McKay said. 'It's been a difficult, difficult campus to keep running.'

Instead of reviving the campus, McKay said he wanted to see a 'more traditional' college, which is needed, because Native Americans lack education opportunities.

'We have a huge drop out rate out of high school; we have a huge drop out rate in the college system. (A tribal college) would level the playing field and give students - a chance to carve out a life for themselves.

'Education is something that can't be taken away from a person.'

Obama echoed McKay. 'We are going to keep on working with you to make sure that the first Americans get the best possible chances in life in a way that's consistent with your extraordinary traditions and culture and values.'

Sovereignty also was a hot topic. All levels of government are still feeling out what that means, McKay said. But McKay said reservations are treated like islands and ignored when they ask for help.

That doesn't happen at other levels of government. When a county goes to the state and says, 'Hey, we have such-and-such a problem,' the state fixes it, McKay said, or at the very least, responds.

'With tribes, we don't get that interaction,' McKay said. 'We'll say we have a problem with water on the reservation, and they'll say, 'Well, that's your reservation,' ' even if the water system runs through the reservation, county and state boundaries.

By: Jonathan Edwards, Enterprise staff writer