WASHINGTON - For the 10th consecutive presidential Inauguration Day, the
American Indian Society gave Indian parade marchers, spectators and
Washington-area residents a place to go and socialize after the main event.
Before 1969, when the society began its American Indian Inaugural Ball,
many Inauguration Day balls took place as always after the parade,
swearing-in, and presidential speech. But none of them went out of their
way to welcome Indians in any number. "There was nothing for these people
to do when they got into town," said Michael Nephew, the society president.
Problem solved, as the Jan. 20 version proved. "One of the best ones we've
had," Nephew called it, adding, "We had over 1,000 [in attendance]. And
that's really good for a Republican administration."
The ball is non-partisan, but Indian country overall is Democratic in its
political sympathies. Musician Keith Secola caught one mood of the evening
with an artist's flair: "It was an almost enlightening thing ... people
coming together to make the next four years [of Pres. Bush's Republican administration] a little easier..."
Secola accepted the society's Lifetime Legacy Award for Floyd Westerman.
The recording artist and social activist is laid up with health problems,
but Secola said he is on the mend. Secola sang one of Westerman's social
protest songs - and noted the irony of rehearsing it in a hotel room with
Bush's Inaugural speech playing on the television in the background. He
found he could rehearse it six and a half times during the speech.
Also on the agenda was Dennis Banks of American Indian Movement fame,
reading the speech Westerman had written.
But on the president's day, with an oath of office and a major speech to
inspire them, GOP partisans too were out in force, among them Dave
Anderson. The BIA head said he didn't detect any particular bias against
Bush, and didn't expect any because Indians accept that he won the
presidential election. He called it "a day of everybody getting together."
Anderson himself said he was at the ball to enjoy himself, get together
with Indian people and celebrate their participation in American democracy.
He succeeded well enough to leave the ball for another one and return
later. He added that the whole day was memorable, from the president's
speech emphasizing housing and economic development to the huge ballrooms
and other gala venues around the city where Inauguration Day plays out.
"I think that any time Indian people can get together, it's a good thing. I
think it's important for Indians to be part of the mix in American
He was especially encouraged by the numerous tribal leaders on hand as
"part of the representation in Washington, D.C."
The event had good support from across Indian country, to judge from the
sponsors. The Comanche, Mississippi Choctaw, Navajo arid Seneca tribes
purchased multiple reserved tables for the evening, said Maria Canellis,
who coordinated the event. Other tribes sponsored more than 25 single
tables. Adam Beach, the Native actor (Smoke Signals, Windtalkers) who
agreed to serve as honorary chairman of the ball, kindled outstanding
interest as the event's overall "headliner."
It was an evening of intentional contrasts in a sizeable ballroom in
Arlington, Va., a Washington, D.C. suburb. First came an Honor Guard of
Indian veterans bearing the colors, and a solemn procession of tribal
leaders to acknowledge the many nations on hand. Then came a sustained
concert from Native artists that star-spangled the musical spectrum -
Stateline's country and western, Corn-Bred's fusion, Martha Redbone's brand
of soul and rocker Derek Miller. The concerts were timed so that you could
get to each of them in separate venues if you were determined, Canellis
But between the food and the conversation, visiting seemed to be the
priority. After 35 years, Canellis added, "It's almost like a little
homecoming" now for many Indians from dozens of nations.