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Indian participation in Obama’s inauguration takes shape

WASHINGTON – Upon finding out that the United Tribes Technical College would feature participants marching in the inaugural parade of President-elect Barack Obama, a woman from Atlanta made an enthusiastic phone call to the tribal college.

“We are planning on coming to the inauguration,” she said. “And we have an extra room. If any of you need to stay there, it’s available.”

The tribal college had already secured lodging, but it was still a much welcomed invitation. Wes Longfeather, chief of staff at UTTC, said the call made him proud that people from different backgrounds around the country are banding together to help each other out in difficult economic times marked by hope for change.

The UTTC delegation will join a total of 10 American Indian and Alaska Native groups that have been announced so far to appear in the inaugural parade. The parade is one of many inauguration-related activities that will happen Jan. 20 after Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden are sworn in to their new positions. American Indian groups and individuals also plan to have their own inaugural ball and pow wow in Washington, during which they hope to see an appearance by Obama himself.

“I am honored to invite these talented groups and individuals to participate in the inaugural parade,” the incoming president said in a statement. “These organizations embody the best of our nation’s history, diversity and commitment to service. Vice President-elect Biden and I are proud to have them join us in the parade.”

Indigenous groups scheduled to march include members of the Crow Nation of Montana, veteran members of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin, the Suurimmanitchuat Eskimo dance group, and members of the Coeur d’Alene and Nez Perce Tribes.

The UTTC delegation will feature members from five more tribes, including the Three Affiliated Tribes of Fort Berthold, the Spirit Lake Tribe, the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians.

UTTC’s participants will include employees and students who have served in the Armed Forces, as well as singers and dancers using traditional hoop drums. David Gipp, president of the institution, also plans to take part in the historic event. He gave an address focused on tribal colleges and Indian issues at the Democratic National Convention in August.

Presidential Inaugural Committee officials said that invitations were extended to the Native groups in keeping with a commitment to hold inaugural events that celebrate the country’s common values and reflect the diversity and history of the nation.

Longfeather, who served in Operation Desert Storm, is not only coordinating UTTC’s participation, he’s also going to be in the parade.

“I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around all this,” said Longfeather, who is looking forward to seeing progress on Indian issues under Obama’s leadership. “It’s just such an honor.”

Robert Old Horn, executive assistant to the Crow Nation Chairman Carl Venne, said that tribal members had long been interested in being part of the parade, especially after the Crow’s adopted Obama into the tribe when he visited the reservation on May 19. During that campaign visit, he was given a Crow name, which translates to “One who helps people throughout the land.” Members of the family that adopted Obama were special guests of his at the DNC.

Old Horn said that Crow Nation parade participants will ride painted horses single file, while wearing special traditional regalia.

“We want to celebrate and support not only the President of the United States of America, but also celebrate with one of our own,” Old Horn said. “We feel very humbled, but also proud that we will be able to come forward with our support.”

“The chairman would like to take everybody he can,” Old Horn added. “But we can only take so many, and that’s the hard part.”

Twenty-four members are currently scheduled to be part of the Crow contingent.

The Oneida Nation Veterans Color Guard of Wisconsin, which hosted members of the Medal of Honor Association in 2007, plans to feature a five-person group of veteran members marching in the parade.

“We’re looking forward to this,” Kerry Metoxen, director of the Oneida Nation veterans department, told local media outlets after learning of the tribe’s invitation to march. “This is great news.”

The Native groups were selected to participate after submitting an application to the Armed Forces Inaugural Committee, which then assisted the Presidential Inaugural Committee in reviewing all of the groups’ applications. The committee was assisted in its selection process by a group of experienced military musicians, who utilized their expertise to help assess the presentation skills of marching bands, musical acts and drill teams. Over 1,300 organizations applied to take part in the parade.

The parade is open to the public, and will take place down Pennsylvania Avenue following Obama’s swearing-in ceremony on the steps of the Capitol.

Tickets are not required to attend the celebration, which will also be televised. More information about attending is available at http://dc.about.com/od/specialevents/a/InaugParade.htm.

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