Lance Hill is a proud member of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin, Kiowa and Comanche Nations.
Unemployed, possibly soon to be homeless, the thought of the opportunity to go to the White House for a discussion of current policy by Senior White House staff seemed like a world away. After having a couple of job interviews and no “call-backs” and the NYLA retreat beginning the same weekend, I was definitely feeling a little anxious with the enormity of the situation.
The “official” title of our visit is Community Leaders Briefing Series. Peggy Flanagan from Wellstone Action contacted Kevin to see if anyone from NYLA would be able to go to our Nation’s capital to attend this event and I was fortunate enough to have been chosen.
I wondered, what do you wear when you go to the White House and what issues am I going to bring up if the opportunity arises. I reached out to a few community leaders in my area that I know and tell them my situation and if they would have any directions that I may go. One tribal council member told me, “ I haven’t even been to the White House! What a great opportunity!” And then she proceeded to narrate a laundry list of issues that could be relevant on the national level that would pertain to Indian Tribes – from health care issues, land to trust concerns, the need for Native representation in Federal Courts and poverty issues.
Why in the world am I here? I do not see myself as a leader or an organizer, just as a father and a husband trying to keep his family fed and sheltered, and not doing a good job of it.
After having a late meal and getting only about 6 hours sleep, the alarm rudely wakes me up. We have to be at the gates by 7:15 AM to get in. I stopped to get a cup of coffee and then took a quick cab ride to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. After taking a picture of Grandfather Sun coming up with the Washington Monument, greeting me this fine morning, I felt as though I were someone important stepping up to the guard station and presented my identification and was admitted inside the grounds. Another guard station greeted me openly and as we passed through that one, we were free to be herded to our meeting site.
During our visit, Mark Doms, Chief Economist for Department of Commerce spoke about the Jobs Act, Sam Kass, Senior Policy Analyst for the Healthy Food Initiative about the Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign. Stephanie Valencia, Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, spoke about her agencies outreaches to local stakeholders to ensure the two way conversations. Valerie Jarrett, Assistant to the President and Senior Advisor and Brad Cooper, ED Joining Forces, rally and organize communities to do more for members of Armed Forces. John Kelly, Policy Advisor spoke for the Office of Faith based & Neighborhood partnerships. Jon Carson, Deputy Assistant to President and Director of White House Office of Public Engagement led listening session.
For me the anticipation of possible meeting President Obama was a clear, constant thought that kept coming up throughout the morning. We listened to a number of top senior assistant deputy advisors, all with particular programs they were responsible for or working on. We sat in the front row, closest to the podium from any other participant. Slightly behind the navy blue curtain that was draping the outline of the stage, there was a door that I knew that Barack himself would be coming out of, to give us a quick 2 minutes of his time. A quick 2 minutes to give the praises of a grateful nation for the work that each of us are doing in our communities. A mere Presidential recognition is all that we wanted this fine October morning…
…a few days later, I received a call offering me a job that I had interviewed for 2 weeks prior…