National Congress of American Indian convenes in Ho-Chunk territory

By Marlon WhiteEagle

The National Congress of American Indian (NCAI) held its seventy-fourth annual convention at the Wisconsin Center in Milwaukee during the week of October 15 to 20.
The six day convention is a gathering of tribal leaders to discuss important issues faced by tribes when dealing with federal government. Issues range from community, culture, economic development, education, health, land and natural resources, veterans, and tribal governance.
The Ho-Chunk Nation was a platinum sponsor of the annual convention and was the co-sponsor of the Opening Night reception at the Harley Davidson museum.
One of the major tasks accomplished at the convention is to act on resolutions proposed by tribes on various issues and develop a consensus position from NCAI.
Resolutions are received three weeks before the annual convention and designated committees or subcommittees will review and make recommendations before posting resolutions on the NCAI website for members to review and research.
At the convention, those committees and subcommittees hear from the proposing tribes and interested parties about the resolution at scheduled meeting times and locations solidify the group’s position on the issue.
Resolutions are passed or tabled during the final general assembly and essentially become the marching orders of the organization.
The Ho-Chunk Nation proposed a resolution at this year’s convention. It was a request to restore the Department of Interior Land Buy-back Program to Pre-2017 schedule.
The Land and Natural Resources committee and the Land, Natural Resources, and Agriculture subcommittee are working on the policy. The resolution was passed and will be acted on.
Ho-Chunk Nation Real Estate Director Matthew Carriage said going back to the pre-2017 Land Buy Back schedule would allow the Ho-Chunk Nation to participate in the Land Buy Back Program.
“The program has spent about $ 1.4 billion of the $ 1.9 billion allocated from the Cobell Settlement. If the Nation were allowed to participate, individuals owners in trust allotment interest would be offered a chance to sale their interest to the Nation. This would help consolidate land interest on Ho-Chunk allotments and prevent those interests from going to non-Ho-Chunks,” Carriaga said.
“The Nation was previously on the schedule, but the Program decided to go in a different direction when the new administration came into office. The Ho-Chunk Nation and over 50 other tribes were cut from the program.”
With NCAI resolution, the hope is to get the Program to go back to the pre-2017 schedule and request additional funding from Congress to complete the intended Land Buy-Back Program schedule, said Carriaga.
Wisconsin tribes had many volunteers that helped make the annual convention a success.
For the Opening Night reception, Ho-Chunk Gaming Wisconsin Dells offered shuttle buses and drivers to transport tribal leaders to the Harley Davidson museum from the host hotels. There was a live band, food, drink, networking at the reception.
Reception attendees could also get temporary tattoos, take a photo on a Harley Davidson motorcycle, and shop in the museum gift shop.
Tuesday morning, Ho-Chunk Nation President Wilfrid Cleveland gave the invocation as the general assembly began.
Also that morning, the US Department of Interior announced the White House nomination of Tara Katuk Sweeney (Inupiaq) as the new Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs.
Sweeney most recently led corporate media, government relations, and communication strategy for Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, as their Executive Vice President of External Affairs.
Currently, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs John Tahsuda III (Kiowa) is serving as the Acting Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs.
The Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs is charged with the federal responsibility to protect tribal sovereignty, treaty rights, and the trust relationship, said NCAI President Brian Cladoosny.
“We appreciate the Administration’s commitment to efficiently staffing important positions within the governmental departments directly effecting Indian Country,” Cladoosby said.
“And we look forward to hearing from Ms. Sweeney about her goals and plans for working with tribal leaders to ensure the government-to-government relationship is upheld.”
Another major announcement during the convention was NCAI joined the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) to work to establish an Indigenous Chapter of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde spoke to tribal leaders at the convention.
“This is a strong show of solidarity by the First Peoples of turtle Island and a strong message to the nation-states involved in the negotiations,” Bellegarde said.
“Our inherent rights, treaty rights, and international rights in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People must be respected in the negotiations and in any final agreement.”
At Wednesday’s general assembly, nominations of candidates for NCAI board positions were accepted, with the election schedule for Thursday morning. The treasurer position candidate, W. Ron Allen, was accepted with a unanimous vote, while other position would go through the election process.
Also on Wednesday, the Indian Community School hosted and was the location for a Cultural Night. The focus of the night was culture of woodlands and great lakes.
Convention goers were treated to wild rice and Oneida corn soup, and three sisters stew. They could go on tours of the school, which enrolls native students in pre-kindergarten to eighth grade.
Various classroom offered classes such as: Making a Corn Husk Doll, Moccasin Game, Poetry Reading, Back 40 Mine performance by Wade Fernandez, Finger weaving with yarn, Menominee language, and Ho-Chunk Clans with Hope Smith.
There were also dance performances by Oneida smoke dancers and Ho-Chunk Nation dancers in the school’s performance space. The Ho-Chunk Nation dancers exhibited powwow style dancing, such as Ho-Chunk applique, men’s woodland style, jingle dress, and men’s fancy dance.
Chickasaw Nation Lt. Governor Jefferson Keel was elected as president of NCAI by a narrow margin over Quinault Indian Nation President Fawn Sharp.
“Strength is in our sovereignty. Success is in our unity,” Keel said in his acceptance speech.
Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians Chairperson, Dr. Aaron Payment was elected as first vice president of NCAI.
“My heart, soul, and commitment is to our native people and families. I also want to recognize my tribal board for voting unanimously to support my continuation of this critical work at the national level advocating for our people in a non-partisan way,” Payment said.
Pauma Band of Mission Indians Traditional Councilwoman Juana Majel-Dixon was elected as the Recording Secretary of NCAI.
“I am honored to have the opportunity to further NCAI’s important work of championing the nation-to-nation relationship and finding common ground to improve the well-being, education, safety and long-term stability of our tribal communities,” Majel-Dixon said.
Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe Chairman and CEO W. Ron Allen was named treasurer of NCAI.
“It is a humbling honor to be supported by Indian Country to be elected treasurer again. I’m looking forward to being a member of the NCAI team to protect and advance the tribal agenda to become more self-governing and self-reliant,” Allen said.
Regional vice presidents and alternates were also nominated and elected by NCAI’s 12 regional caucuses.
Each board member will serve a two-year term and were sworn in during the final general assembly.
Native American Rights Fund Executive Director John Echohawk and NCAI General Counsel John Dossett have a Supreme Court update.
The US Supreme Court will hear Patchak v. Zinke. There are 16 petitions in 13 cases regarding Indian law within the Supreme Court. Three petitions have already been denied; Williams v. PBCI, Hackford v. Utah, and French v. Starr.
Newly elected board members were sworn in and resolutions were voted on in the final general assembly of NCAI’s annual convention.
Next year, NCAI will hold its annual convention in Denver, Colorado on October 21 to 26.