Brian Cladoosby (Swinomish Indian Tribal Community) is the 21st President of the National Congress of American Indians. According to Cladoosby 2014 was an exciting year for Indian country which is leading to an even more exciting 2015.
In an interview with Cladoosby, he shared his thoughts on what we could look forward to in 2015, things Indian country needs to consider and what we should all strive for in terms of a 2015 New Year’s Resolution for all of Indian country.
From your perspective, how did 2014 go for Indian country?
In September we saw the GWE pass the House and Senate (the Tribal General Welfare Exclusion Act) with 100 percent Republican and Democratic Senator support. That was a big win for Indian country. When you have a do-nothing Senate and Congress, considering this is one of the most polarized congresses in the history of U.S. – to have tribes have success like this was very rewarding.
We also saw the important Violence Against Women Act piece put into place for Alaskan Natives. It was also fortunate to have Alaska included in the land into trust process considering they were unfortunately left out of the original legislation. It was rewarding to see that our brothers and sisters up north had the same opportunities as the brothers and sisters in the lower 48.
Considering the support of the Obama administration through the White House Tribal Nations Conference in Washington, D.C. that took place in 2014, what do you see that Indian country can expect in 2015?
The Tribal Conference in D.C. was amazing. And as I have said on record this is the greatest administration in the history of the United States for tribes. The commitment that they have made is second to none.
The President told us how affected he and the First Lady were in their visit to the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and that he returned to the White House with tears in his eyes. He has instructed his cabinet that it is their turn to visit Indian country. To have the president come out and tell us that he was going to make his cabinet get out to Indian country that is so very powerful.
Personally I encourage those senators and congressmen whether or not they have tribes in their state – to visit as well. They are our trustees.
During the White House Tribal Nations Conference – It was the only time in the history of the U.S. where the president has had his entire cabinet under one roof the whole year and the only group in the world that he does that with are the Native Americans. That speaks volumes.
Heads of state that come to the United States don't get that kind of attention, no groups in the U.S. get that kind of attention. For him to make that commitment to Indian country is second to none. The vice president was also a rock star.
I've had many discussions with officials at the Department of the Interior. For example, Nedra Darling at the BIA once said to me, the BIA is changing for the better, "We are not your grandparents BIA anymore." Do you see relations improving between tribes and the Interior as we venture into 2015?
Without a doubt. She hit the nail on the head where she says this is not our grandparents BIA. The infrastructure that the tribes have now in the 21st century to create and accomplish change is amazing.
I also always say this is not our grandparent’s generation. This is what they dreamed about. Our grandparents and elders that accessed Washington, D.C. did not quite have the infrastructure that we have now in as far as attorneys and lobbyists. Our elders dreamed of this day when tribes would have this type of access to the federal government. They dreamed and prayed we would be able to have these high level meetings with the president, the cabinet secretaries and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Now, the Bureau of Indian Affairs is not looking at us as their 'wards of the Federal Government," which was the term recently used by Arizona Congressman Paul Gosar.
The BIA used to have a paternalistic view of tribes, and we were wards of the federal government.
Nedra is right; the BIA is looking at us like governments, as equals. To be able to sit down and have real and true government-to-government discussions with them – the time has come to change an outdated mindset.
Having support of the Obama administration and these governmental agencies is one important aspect contributing to the lifeblood of Indian country – but on another side of this coin we have a continuously growing community on social media and the Internet, how do you see things faring in 2015 from this perspective?
As we look at ourselves as 21st century tribes, they are definitely taking advantage of the tools that are available to us. Definitely one of these tools is social media and the Internet. When stories break in Indian country, online in emails or on Facebook or tweeted – we know about it immediately. Our grandparent’s generation never had this type of instant access to this type of news.
When the Arizona congressman called us wards of the federal government – a generation ago we might not have ever heard that. Maybe 1 percent of the Native population might've heard – but with the access of social media it is safe to say a large majority of Native Americans across the U.S. heard it and were very offended. In return and immediately – they made their voices heard.
What do you see in 2015 for the National Congress of American Indians?
We look forward to continuing to work with the Obama administration with an emphasis on legacy, legacy, legacy. This president's legacy for Indian country is going to be second to none and we cannot get complacent or lazy in the next two years. We need to keep working very hard on that legacy in as far as legislation, and as far as taking these 19th and 20th century rules and regulations that we have been living under for the last 100-plus years that were paternalistic in nature and working with the BIA and other agencies to do a review the rules and regulations that hinder Indian country.
For example the EPA heard us loud and clear during the WHTNC. The EPA administrator came out with a very strong worded memo to her 12 regions about the importance of treaty rights when they make decisions.
Expanding self-governance has worked; we have shown that it has worked within the IHS and BIA. The EPA, DOJ, BIA – we have proven that we have the infrastructure to be able to take some of these pilot projects from some of these other agencies – who have always looked at things with a cookie-cutter approach what works in the Northwest might not work in Alaska or the Northeast.
The NCAI – which is nonpartisan with friends on both sides of the aisle – Native issues are nonpartisan and are based on treaty rights with the federal government – we need to be able to reach out to the leadership of the Republican Party in the Senate or the House just to show them what we've done in the last few years and we want to continue that.
What should Indian country as a whole have as its New Year's resolution?
Continuing to break the cycle. What I mean by that is that we continue to chip away at the drug and alcohol abuse – we need to continue to chip away at the uneducated workforce through education. I am a firm believer that healthcare and education is a treaty-right not a line item.
I encourage the federal government to fund our healthcare at 100 percent. I believe we are at $4 billion right now and our need is about $29 billion. If they put that type of money into our health programs I guarantee in one generation we would save them twice or three times as much.
That is the same with education, if you give us one dollar to educate our children we will save you $10 in a generation because those kids will be productive members of society. They will not be in the court system; they will not be on drugs because statistics show that if you get a 12th grade education and a two or four year degree, or a Masters and a PhD you will be a productive member of society.
If they would fund our education program at 100 percent we would be a generation filled with productive members of society.