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Eastern tribes kick off political season

WASHINGTON - More than 20 tribes from throughout the eastern United States descended on the nation's capital to begin work with the 107th Congress and the Bush administration.

Member tribes of the United South and Eastern Tribes (USET) met with members of Congress and administration officials and gathered to formulate strategies for the new political season. The sessions centered around the organization's annual "Impact Week."

"We are here to meet with everyone," said Keller George, an Oneida from New York and president of USET. "That means members of both parties, Democrats and Republicans."

USET was formed more than 30 years ago to help enhance development of eastern Indian tribes, improve the capabilities of their tribal governments and assist member tribes in "dealing effectively with public policy issues and in serving the broad needs of Indian people." It provides eastern tribes with a strong voice in Indian affairs, an area perceived by some to be dominated by the needs of larger western tribes.

While USET has come into its own over the years, George said it relies on and covets its relationships with other tribes and tribal organizations, like the National Indian Gaming Association and the National Congress of American Indians. These organizations and others continue to be involved in activities during "Impact Week."

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Proactive in its relationships with those in Congress and the administration, much of the organization's work emphasizes building political relationships and development of federal policy.

During "Impact Week," members begin to assess the political playing field and how best to coordinate efforts.

Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Indian Affairs, just met with a number tribes in Hawaii. "Native leaders came together in my state to begin discussions that were aimed at the development of Indian country's legislative agenda for the 107th session," Inouye said. "Your meetings here this week will undoubtedly bring us all a step closer to that goal and I once again commend you for having the foresight to gather in the nation's capital early in the year, when your meetings with members of Congress can have a significant effect."

Dale Kildee, D-Mich., co-chairman of the House Native American Caucus, also expressed appreciation to those tribes gathered, but said the he was specifically there to express his continuing commitment to the protection of tribal rights.

"It was over four years ago that the Native American Caucus began fighting for Indian rights," Kildee said. "We plan to continue that fight in the new Congress."

USET is comprised of 23 member tribes from Maine to Florida. The week's events included presentations, committee meetings, congressional visits, and receptions. Tribal youth also participated during the week in conjunction with the "American Indian Youth Summit," an annual event conducted by the Close Up Foundation.