Mixing business with pleasure

Author:
Updated:
Original:

WASHINGTON – The country may be in the middle of an economic recession, but that didn’t keep thousands of American Indians from bringing out the glitz and glam, while pushing for progress on Native issues during several inauguration celebrations for President Barack Obama.

At the American Indian Inaugural Ball, more than 3,500 guests arrived at the Hyatt Regency of Crystal City to celebrate, despite frigid temperatures and transportation issues aplenty.

Some came with talking points ready.

“We’re so excited to have Barack Obama as the president of the United States, but what we’ve got to do now is tell him that we’ve got hundreds of presidents and chiefs here, and we’ve got to talk to him,” said Ernie Stevens Jr., chairman of the National Indian Gaming Association, in a speech during the event.

“My brothers and sisters, we cannot let our guard down,” Joe Garcia, president of the National Congress of American Indians, told the partygoers. “The minute we do, we will suffer.”

Garcia’s message came at a Jan. 19 NCAI meeting in Arlington, Va. where Ken Salazar, the newly confirmed head of the Department of the Interior, made an appearance, along with members of Obama’s transition team.

“We have some great opportunities, yet some major challenges ahead of us,” Salazar, a former Democratic senator from Colorado, told more than 400 tribal leaders at the event.

“But we will only address those challenges through a spirit of consultation. The Department of Interior will work hand-in-hand with Indian country to address the challenges of our time. We have to make sure that Native American communities of the United States are never left outside of the tent again.”

Beyond consultation, Salazar said Indian economic development, energy and trust management issues were all top concerns.

Garcia said it encourages him that Salazar is putting Indian country’s agenda “at the top of his priority list.”

At the ball, Garcia summed up his feelings by saying in a loud, rumbling voice, “Keep on rolling, Indian country!” The line received a loud ovation.

However pumped many attendees of the Indian ball were to help ring in an era of change, some were let down that President Obama himself did not make an appearance.

Still, many were prepared for that scenario. Several chose to attend other inauguration galas throughout the District of Columbia in an effort to reach a diverse audience, trying to make their presence known to a bevy of high-ranking, new Obama administration officials.

Frank LaMere, a member of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska and longtime organizer of the Democratic Party’s Native American caucus, said that he planned to press palms at the Midwest Ball to drum up support for more Native representation on the Democratic National Committee.

The day after the ball, LaMere attended an early DNC meeting to further push his goals.

“We can’t just party and forget what we’re trying to accomplish. Now is the time to get this stuff on important people’s minds.”

Lucille Echohawk, strategic advisor at Colorado’s Casey Family Programs, Mark Macarro, Pechanga chairman, as well as a delegation from the Tohono O’odham Nation, were also seen expressing tribal concerns at the Western Ball on Inauguration Day.

But it wasn’t all business.

At the American Indian Ball, women wore expensive gowns, mixed with touches of turquoise or intricate beadwork.

Many Native gentlemen showed up in tuxedos, while some wore traditional headgear, and others wore bolo ties with pricey suits.

On Jan. 19, much celebrating was done, too, at the Inaugural Pow Wow. Like the ball, it was hosted by the American Indian Society of Washington, D.C. It turned out to be a packed, standing room only event, held the day before the ball and in the same hotel.

Echohawk “Pete” Neconie, a Kiowa/Pawnee planner with AIS, led preparation of the pow wow, where hundreds of tribal members performed and watched traditional dances and spiritual remembrances. The masters of ceremony for the event were Sandon Jacobs, a member of the Waccamaw Siouan Tribe, and Keith Colston, a member of the Tuscarora and Lumbee tribes.

Head man at the pow wow was Erny Zah, of Navajo, Jicarilla Apache and Choctaw descent. Head lady was Nita One Bear, of Crow and Northern Cheyenne heritage.