Fri Oct 28th, 2016
The Desert Southwest …
It is October 10 in Phoenix, A.Z. the site of this year’s annual conference. This National Congress of American Indians brings together Indigenous People of North America for a legislative arm recognized by the federal government. The issues are common and together this body of tribal leaders assists in demonstrating that together, good if not great, things can happen in Indigenous Country. The scene was set. The fall weather in Arizona provides a late summer and comfortable sun experience for all that were in attendance.
Southern Ute Nation was well represented. Tribal Council/past and present, Veterans Association, Sunshine Cloud Smith Youth Advisory Council and other interested Southern Utes in attendance.
And the issues were many. Elders, veterans and youth were a big part of the agenda and focus of this monumental gathering of indigenous leaders and concerned people. Dr. James Jefferson led in the opening ceremony carrying the lead flag in the Color Guard presentation.
The youth were acknowledged and celebrated during the entire conference. They were very present in crowds and meeting rooms at NCAI. The conference was well organized mixed with meet and greets, cultural entertainment/educational experience. Breakout session; sources told me that a youth council went into late evening one night, until they could reach a consensus and end unified. Not only is this gathering important to educated, but to showcase. Introduce people who don’t get to experience life off the reservation along with the opportunity to hear the troubles of other nations stuck or struck with social, economic, cultural and environmental problems. The youth portion gave these talented minds education on significant and common issues and tools to assist their respective communities across Indigenous Country.
The elder issues were directed to tribal leaders to start speaking up at the local, area and regional Indian Health Service personnel. If you have the resources go all the way to the “Hill” – Capitol Hill. Dr. Jefferson was first to remind the audience on how to be effective in D.C. because he did just that.
In his earlier life he worked in Washington when he was an intern at the Smithsonian. He worked the great halls and trains where congressional members, staff and aides can be caught and cornered for getting the issues on Congress’s agenda.
“You have to be in their face all the time and at every occasion,” Dr. Jefferson said.
The Veterans issues were very controversial and that is not confirmed, most of the veteran breakout sessions were closed to non-vets and the press. Information floating around the halls dealt with access to the Veterans Hospitals and other essential services. IHS was named as another obstacle. If you are a tribal veteran I would contact your local association for details.
Albeit the conference had shining stars as part of the outreach programs at Harvard and the University of Arizona’s Native Nations Institute. An “Honoring Nations” national award program where “best practices” programs are implemented in their communities and are willing to share the success story. And this years winners are; The Alaska Rural Utility Collaborative a tribal and community water system, The Calricaraq: Indigenous Yup’ik Wellbeing an elder driven program for Yup’ik culture, The Caw Pawa Laakin – They are not forgotten, using technology to re-identify cultural location, places and language on maps, The Chickasaw Nation Sick Child Care Program for mildly-ill children to attend in safe care so parent can stay at work, The Native American Drug and Gang Initiative Task Force an Intertribal effort of the Nations of Wisconsin addressing drug and gang activity in their remote communities, The Project Tiwahu – Redefining Tigua Citizenship is the Pueblo of Ysleta del Sur that created an initiative designed to reform and self-determine citizenship requirements. This project removed federally mandated enrollment requirements. The Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development can be found at www.hpaied.org.
NCAI has been advocating for tribes for many years. This conference was a great gathering and they have put together the breakout sessions to educate and assist with the dissemination of information. The Trade Show was a great area of the conference. Tons of networking with vendors there was lots of arts and crafts, environmental consulting firms, technology, and people collecting data. Walking through individuals were talking and mingling. Enjoying a break from the speakers upstairs.
As the sunsets on another meeting of the minds in Indigenous Country closes, take with you hope, assurance and confidence NCAI along with you have an effective voice in the United States Congress.