Leader in Native American issues offers her insight on national level

By Ken Luchterhand

A national leader in Native American development came to the Ho-Chunk Nation.
Jacqueline Pata, executive director of the National Congress of American Indians, attended the Aug. 22 Ho-Chunk Nation Legislature meeting.
At that meeting, Pata was presented with a $100,000 check, donated by the Ho-Chunk Nation, to the National Congress of American Indians.
The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) is an organization to lobby federally elected officials and to help form policies and laws to reflect the interests and cultures of Native American people.
Pata is from Juneau, Alaska, and a member of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska and currently serves as the Central Council’s fourth vice president. That tribe has 36,000 members.
She’s been in her position as executive director since June 2001, a total of 16 years, which makes her the longest servicing NCAI director. She has lived in Washington D.C. since she was hired for the job.
“I love it. It’s so challenging every day. I don’t get bored,” she said.
Her current priority is to get ready for the annual conference, which will be held Oct. 15 – 20 at the Harley Davidson Museum in Milwaukee. The Ho-Chunk Nation will be sponsoring the opening night ceremony.
Pata is working in several issues in her capacity in Washington D.C. One of the issues is the potential repeal of the Affordable Care Act and, as a result, what will happen with Medicaid.
Other issues include the land-into-trust procedures and permitting processes and infrastructure and energy development among tribal nations.
“It’s an opportunity to be at the table in energy development. They are posed to be leaders in energy in their areas,” she said.
She is working on receiving recognition to have Native American culture revitalized at the United Nations level.
“We deal with all the issues that affect Indian Country,” she said. “We put together a clear and concise way to address some of the issues facing the 567 tribes in this country,” Pata said.
Another issue she’s looking at is how the administration and congress deal with tax policies, such as opposition to dual taxation.
“If the tax bills move forward, our policies will be included.
The NCAI has put together a booklet, Tribal Infrastructure.
“If we’re going to talk about it, we need to be at the table and best position Indian Country for those conversations,” she said.
One of the contentious issues is charter schools, private schools and the school voucher program.
“In the areas around Native American communities, charter schools are usually alternative schools, not the magnet schools that attract children seeking a better education,” she said.
Another area she strives to improve upon is through the justice system. Historically, when Native American cases go before the Supreme Court, Native Americans are losing at a higher percentage than any other group.
“We need to pick and choose cases that can move forward and examine the ongoing strategy of our litigation,” she said. “We need to turn the tide of our wins and losses.”
When faced with cases that have poor odds of winning, it is often beneficial to settle out of court and only pursue issues with stronger cases.
NCAI representatives met with President Trump’s transition team three times when the new administration was being formed, one of only a few groups who sought to do so.
“We can’t be throwing rocks from the outside. We have to be inside, making the changes we need to have happen,” Pata said.
Pata opened the floor to questions or comments from those present.
President Wilfrid Cleveland asked if it were possible to streamline the land-into-trust process. He indicated that it was frustrating to have to go to town and county officials and meetings to get approval at a local level to change the land to a trust basis. He asked if it could be streamlined to have it be approved only on a federal level.
“I don’t disagree, but it probably won’t happen,” Pata said. “There’s no leadership at the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs).  (Department of the Interior Associate Deputy Secretary) Jim Casen is making the only decisions. Decisions made by the BIA is the problem. I would advise to be very careful what you say and be very clear what you say, and let it known what your recommendations are.”