Washington, DC (WIBX) - Taking a break from fiscal cliff negotiations, the President met with leaders of the 566 American Indian and Alaska Native leaders in Washington, DC.

Oneida Nation Council Bear Clan Representative Brian Patterson was one of the attendees and says the meetings have historic importance.

The Obama Administration says it is fighting to ensure that assistance programs do not become casualties of the fiscal cliff.  The President said that he is committed to expanding Native American small businesses.  Earlier in the week Jefferson Keel, President of the National Congress of American Indians, sent a letter to Congress that included the following statement:

"We urge you to make thoughtful decisions to avoid disrupting important governmental responsibilities such as the trust obligations to tribes and addressing the public safety crisis throughout Indian Country."

Patterson said that he is optimistic about the tenor of the talks.

The gathering is an annual event organized by the Department of the Interior.