Indian Country Today‘s Rob Capriccioso got a first-of-its-kind interview with White House Chief of Staff Pete Rouse this week, as Rouse answered questions for the Native American publication in advance of the White House Tribal Nations Conference in Washington, D.C. this week.
Rouse answers questions about his comfort level with Indian issues, as well as what might be scheduled as far as more direct talks with President Barack Obama and individual Tribal governments in the near future. Rouse says in his answers that Obama will work hard to protect important legislation like Indian Health Care Improvement Act, passed by Congress this year and continues to be committed to getting to reservations to have direct, intimate talks with tribes.
Here’s Capriccioso’s full Q&A:
Indian Country Today: Many folks in Indian country know you worked for former Sen. Daschle. Did that experience help inform you on Indian issues?
Pete Rouse: It certainly did and, actually, my first job. … I’ve been working in government, primarily on the Hill, for 39 years, and my first job was in 1971 with Jim Abourezk, who was a congressman from South Dakota. That was my first exposure to Native American issues and, actually, Tom Daschle and I were staffers together for two years with Jim Abourezk in the Senate, when he was a senator. Then, for 19 years, I was chief of staff for Tom in the House and Senate. So, that’s how I became espoused of Indian issues – and, hopefully, somewhat knowledgeable.
ICT: When you encounter Indian policy issues, do they come naturally for you, or do you need a lot of outside briefing – not that there’s anything wrong with that.
PR: Well, I need a lot of outside briefing on everything. [Laughs] I am familiar with these issues going way back to Wounded Knee in South Dakota in the early ’70s. Elouise Cobell, I’ve known since the ’80s when she was trying to reform the management of Indian trust. And, of course, in South Dakota, where you have Pine Ridge and Rosebud and Standing Rock – and a lot of the issues of unemployment, need for economic development, education, health care. … those were always prominent on Tom Daschle’s agenda, so I’ve been talking to tribal leaders and Native Americans for years.