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“The State of Indian Nations is Strong”

January 31, 2011
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Jefferson Keel, the President of the National Congress of American Indians, delivered the annual State of Indian Nations speech last Thursday, January 27th.   President Keel called today the beginning of a new era, an era “defined by what we, as Indian nations, choose to do for ourselves.”  Last year’s numerous successes have provided inspiring momentum with which Native Americans and advocacy organizations are hoping to build upon with Congress and the administration.  President Keel touched on many important themes, such as economic opportunity, energy development and investing in native youth. Barriers to these improvements, such as bureaucracy and poor access to federal funding and electronic communication must be lifted, he argued, because “Investing in self-reliant Indian nations is not only the Constitutional and morally right thing to do, Indian nations offer a great untapped source of economic opportunity for all Americans.”

Following the speech, Senator Lisa Murkowski (AK) delivered a congressional response. She summarized the successes of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, of which she is a member, celebrating its efficiency to accomplish a lot in a bipartisan manner.  She emphasized the importance of coming together to address the high rates of suicide among Native Americans, including Indian Country in national energy policy and continuing access to the SBA 8A government contracting program, which has been a significant economic resource for a growing number of tribes.

 

Anticipating the release of the budget in two weeks’ time, Senator Murkowski warned that competition for a slice of the budget pie will be fierce and, “you’ll have to fight hard to keep what you have, and fight even harder to get what you need.”  It’s beyond unfortunate, to me, that cutting programs that benefit the most disadvantaged Americans will probably be inevitable in the coming weeks, spending that Senator Murkowski described as “must have” in order to fulfill constitutional trust responsibilities in Indian Country.

The event appropriately captured both the opportunities to be taken advantage of today, and the barriers to future successes. I feel lucky to be working on Indian issues during a time of such positive momentum, when Native American issues are being heard and paid attention to more so than they have in the past.  The challenge is sobering, however, when you think about the number of homes in Indian Country that are overcrowded or still don’t have access to electricity, phone lines, or plumbing.  Deliberate ignorance and systematic discrimination over hundreds of years by all levels of government created today’s barriers to success for tribes, and thankfully we are seeing more effort oriented towards positive progress and justice for Native Americans.

To see a video of the speech, click here. Or, read the transcript at NCAI’s website.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Ellen N. Duell permalink
    February 1, 2011 11:00 pm

    We must honor our Native Americans, and with our tax moneys, to fund the programs that enable them to help themselves–which is what they want to do!

  2. Bill Nelson permalink
    February 2, 2011 2:11 am

    As a nation it is our responsibility and moral obligation to right the wrongs of our ancesotrs. We are all part of this country with its high ideals. Lets live up to them and start practicing wise stewardship rather than fight wars.

  3. Marilyn Russell permalink
    February 3, 2011 7:37 am

    White Man in charge: Leave space so that Indians can rise! That is what I say (as a white woman).

    There are “49 obstructionist requirements/laws” that curtail development of resources on Indian Land. I doubt that there are that many for some of the big corporations that already have developments in other areas.
    On Indian land, there are wind, minerals, coal etc. that can be energy sources. I see that as jobs and better life-style-choices for First Peoples on their lands.

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