Hundreds filled Washington DC’s Knight Studio at the Newseum as President of the National Congress of the American Indians (NCAI) Jefferson Keel took the stage and delivered the State of Indian Nations (SOIN) 2018.
In addition to the hundreds in attendance, thousands in Indian country participated in Livestream watch parties across the country to hear the status of Indian country as delivered by President Keel.
Immediately following the SOIN, the senior United States Senator from New Mexico and a member of the Democratic Party, Tom Udall delivered the official Congressional response.
Shortly before the SOIN, two princesses from the Haliwa-Saponi Indian tribe shared their thoughts about introducing the event and delivering the opening invocation. Miss Haliwa-Saponi Selena Lynch, who introduced the event said she was excited. “It is a major honor to do this, I am the first Miss Haliwa-Saponi ever asked to do this.” Junior Miss Haliwa-Saponi Abby Richardson said though she was nervous, thought ‘it was a great privilege.”
NCAI President Keel’s #SOIN2018 Speech
To kick off his speech, President Keel remarked that the number of federally-recognized tribes had just recently been changed due to six Virginia state tribes that recently gained federal status, which was received with gracious applause.
“Normally, at this point I’d say: on behalf of the 567 federally-recognized tribal nations and dozens of state-recognized tribal nations that we serve, I’m honored to welcome you here today.
But, last month, six Virginia tribes were finally granted federal recognition. I congratulate the Chickahominy, Eastern Chickahominy, Upper Mattaponi, Rappahannock, Monacan, and Nansemond tribes on this long-overdue affirmation of their sovereignty.
So now, on behalf of the 573 federally recognized tribal nations and dozens of state-recognized tribal nations we serve, I’m honored to share this message of our power and purpose with members of Congress and the Administration,” said Keel.
During the SOIN, Keel ascertained that Indian nations are now “strong, resilient and everlasting,” and though many nations had been through great struggles, including his own Chickasaw tribe who were removed from Mississiippi in the 1830’s, Keel asserted Indian Nations have “inherent rights.”
“We have inherent rights. Not only were we born with them – we have earned them. The right to be recognized as equal governments. The right to be seated at the table where key decisions are made.”
— NCAI (@NCAI1944) February 12, 2018
Keel also said any disregard for the inherent sovereignty of tribal nations, failed policies and disparaging rhetoric was “unacceptable.”
Keel lauded Indian nations as great agriculturists who have put food on Americans tables, builders of the infrastructure of America and innovators. Keel noted in Arizona, Native businesses generate hundreds of millions of tax dollars and pay 1.9 billion in wages to tens of thousands of Native and non-Native employees.
“In Mississippi, the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians provides 6,000 full-time jobs through its diverse array of businesses, more than half of which are held by non-Natives. It also has re-invested over $500 million of its profits in economic development projects across the state.
Not only do these jobs often pay more than other jobs, they’re not going anywhere. You’re never going to read about how they are being moved overseas. Because Native businesses don’t pull up stakes, even when market conditions change. We root our businesses in our local communities—for good.
You want to ‘Buy American’? Then do business with Indian Country,” said Keel to more applause.
Keel then asked policy makers to remove the barriers that stifle an estimated 1 trillion dollars through solar, wind, and traditional energy resources.
Keel noted the original forms of government came from the Native governments,to include the Iroquois Confederacy.
“Our proven ways of governing informed the governing approach forged by this country’s founders. The U.S. Senate acknowledged this fact in 1987, declaring — and I quote — ‘the Congress, on the occasion of the two-hundredth anniversary of the signing of the United States Constitution, acknowledges the contribution made by the Iroquois Confederacy and other Indian Nations to the formation and development of the United States.’ End quote.”
— NCAI (@NCAI1944) February 12, 2018
Near closing, and considering the recent tax overhaul of Indian Country’s top priorities were absent from the version the President signed in December, President Keel outlined three principles he outlined as crucial for improved tribal/governmental relations which were:
- To honor and affirm the federal-tribal relationship.
- To engage tribal nations on all matters of national policy that potentially impact them.
- That tribal self-determination and self-governance is the only policy that has ever worked for Indian Country.
“Today, we call on federal policymakers to consult tribes on ALL major national policies,” asserted Keel. “All we want is a level playing field. That is only fair, and it’s not too much to ask.”
Congressional Response from Senator Tom Udall
Senator Tom Udall, who serves on the U.S. Senate Indian Affairs Committee delivered the Congressional response immediately after President Keel’s SOIN. Upon coming to the stage, Sen. Udall said he applauded President keel for his “powerful remarks” and that the NCAI was “fortunate to have his leadership.”
Senator Udall also congratulated the six tribes in Virginia who received federal recognition.
In the midst of Sen. Udall’s response, he addressed tribal sovereignty, law enforcement and the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), the importance of the survival of Native languages, the Farm Bill and economic development, energy and the opioid crisis.
“As Vice Chairman, three core principles guide my Committee work: respecting tribal sovereignty, promoting tribal self-determination, and ensuring that meaningful government-to-government consultation happens when federal action affects Indian Country.
“When I prepare legislation that affects Indian Country, I work to stay true to these principles. This means acknowledging that tribal sovereignty is written into the Constitution, reflected in treaties, and codified in federal law,” said Udall.
Udall also stressed the importance of consulting, and engaging tribes whenever federal legislation affects their interests and making sure that tribes retain the authority to make decisions for themselves.
“Decisions made for Indians by Indians produce the best outcomes for the unique needs, cultures, and beliefs of their communities,” he said.
“President Keel’s address poignantly recognized the challenges Indian Country faces. But it also recognized your successes and determination in uncertain times,” said Udall. “I appreciate that sentiment. I pledge that I will do my very best to elevate and achieve your legislative priorities.”
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