NCAI’s Cladoosby on Tribal Nations Conference and Building a Lasting Legacy

National Congress of American Indians President Brian Cladoosby took some time at the 2014 White House Tribal Nations Conference to discuss the day.
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As the 21st President of the NCAI, Brian Cladoosby (Swinomish Indian Tribal Community) is well known for his traditional cedar hat he wears as well as his vast experience in tribal governance. At this year’s sixth Annual White House Tribal Nations Conference, Cladoosby took some time out from his busy schedule to speak with ICTMN about his thoughts on the conference and his expectations for the future of Indian country.

RELATED: Obama Puts Native Youth Front and Center at 2014 White House Tribal Nations Conference

There was an incredible amount of focus placed on caring for our generations of Native youth to come in this year's White House tribal Nations conference. With this in mind, what did you, as the president of NCAI, take away from this year’s conference?

That is a great question as we wind down from what I determine to be the greatest administration in the history of the United States of America in dealing with tribal issues... And that is a big statement. As I look forward to the next few years – what Indian country has been working on with this administration is legacy, legacy, legacy.

We are creating and institutionalizing things that will have long-lasting and positive impacts for generations to come for Native Americans. As we move forward in this 21st-century our elders just two generations ago would look forward to this day when the tribes across the nation would have the infrastructure and have a presence and a strong voice.

We have always had a presence and a strong voice but now we have the infrastructure to go along with this.

A lot of tribes are still stuck in the 19th and 20th century. We still have the highest unemployment rate and lowest annual income of any segment in society. As I have said there was never a Marshall plan for Indian country, so now that we are going into this 21st-century the legacy for this president is that we have to create an Obama plan for Indian country in terms of economic development.

There were a lot of panel discussions and announcements brought to the table from senior administrators from various D.C. departments. Thoughts?

We heard from a number of secretaries regarding commitments they have made to tribal programs. That is the one thing that the NCAI will do in the next couple of years in that we will work very very closely with this administration, this president and his secretaries and staff to make sure that we can define this legacy as defined by the president.

These secretaries from such departments as HUD, Labor, Transportation and the USDA touched on a plethora of issues relevant to Indian country.

Some of them have already started to implement plans within these agencies. Their connections to the economic development of Indian country and transportation definitely support the needs of tribal nations. The road systems on reservations in the United States certainly need help. There is a joke in Indian country that even a blind man knows when he's back on the Rez, because those roads are so bad.

Transportation has a direct connection to this economic development and the infrastructure. The secretary of agriculture spoke about the issue of broadband as a way to get tribal goods to market in a way that has never existed before. HUD also is connected to economic development as housing is a big issue. As you heard the secretary say when he visited Pine Ridge, there were over a dozen people living in a two-bedroom home.

And of course the SBA addressed how tribal members can become entrepreneurs in this 21st-century. We need those monetary breaks from the SBA and the government to make this happen to help ensure their success.

Vice President Joe Biden mentioned President Obama was sincerely affected by his visit to Standing Rock. With the current and sincere attention paid to Indian country by the Obama administration – in your opinion – how much of this is personal?

It is very important for all politicians, not just the president but all politicians to make this type of connection. Whether they know it or not every single politician here in Washington, D.C. is a trustee. Even if you do not have a tribe in your district or state, you swore a solemn oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States of America and the treaties are the supreme law of the land as defined in the Constitution.

I challenge every congressman, senator and cabinet member to visit Indian country because you do not get a true picture of what the conditions are like unless you go there. The president's visit To Standing Rock just gave him a different perspective and outlook than just reading reports and news articles.

When you are able to be there, to interact with the youth, to see the initiatives that we are trying to make for our youth – it does leave a big impression. Not only on him but his wife Michelle. They followed up that visit with an invitation for those youth to come to Washington, D.C.

It is important for these politicians whether they are brand-new or if you've been there for 40 years to make a visit to Indian country.