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SAIGE Training Conference looks to ‘Many Nations’ for ‘One Spirit’

SAN DIEGO – More than 400 federal employees, job recruiters and future American Indian leaders are expected to gather this summer for the Sixth Annual Society of American Indian Government Employees Training Conference, June 1 – 5 in San Diego.

The theme for this year’s conference is, “Many Nations, One Spirit.”

Tribal people seeking employment with the federal government, federal employees thinking of transferring to another agency and employers seeking diversity in its workforce are encouraged to attend.

The conference offers a career fair, an agency forum to update personnel on agency policies, programs and issues and three full days of workshops. The workshops and training agenda have been selected to meet the Office of Personnel Management Executive Core Qualifications.

“Our training is wonderful,” said Shana Barehand, a founding member and current treasurer of SAIGE.

SAIGE is a nonprofit organization with more than 500 members. Its mission is to promote the recruitment, retention, development and advancement of American Indian and Alaskan Native federal government employees.

Barehand said SAIGE training is tailored to American Indian professionals. Conference attendees will have the opportunity to meet and network with other highly qualified American Indian and Alaskan Native professionals and to receive training in leadership and Indian law and policy.

Training tracks include Indian Country Issues, EEO and Human Resources, Culture and Diversity, Personal and Professional Development, Health and Wellness and the Environment. Youth and veteran tracks will also be offered.

“These are issues that, as Indian people, we care about,” said Barehand, a liaison to tribal governments with the Federal Communications Commission.

Students in the youth track will have the opportunity to participate in hands-on activities related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics. SAIGE will offer full conference scholarships to about 25 youth.

“This is really exciting for us,” said conference organizer Veronica Vasquez. “If you can touch one student, that student will touch more.”

Barehand said a need for Indian law and policy training in federal agencies and a lack of American Indians in permanent full-time employment in the federal government are two of the main issues that led to the founding of SAIGE in 2001.

According to the Federal Equal Opportunity Recruitment Program report for fiscal year 2008, Native American employment represented 1.9 percent (32,907) of the permanent federal workforce, the same as in 2007 (32,081). The report also indicated Native Americans in 2008 represented 0.9 percent (189) of all employees at the senior pay levels. Senior pay level employment includes employees in Senior Executive Service.

In December 2008, SAIGE and the National Native American Bar Association submitted some of its shared priorities in a letter to Barack Obama’s transition team. In the letter, SAIGE priorities included appointing Indian law practitioners in all Agency General Counsel offices to ensure tribes are included in agency rules, regulations and policies; requiring federal employees to take basic training in Indian law and policy and increasing the number of permanent, professional American Indian and Alaska Native federal employees.

Fredericka Joseph, a member of the Kaw Nation of Oklahoma, has worked in various capacities for the federal government for more than 23 years. She is a passionate lifetime member of SAIGE. “I think it has a wonderful mission,” she said. “The membership as a whole is a very united and close-knit group.”

Vasquez, an equal employment specialist with the Department of the Navy, said people enjoy the camaraderie and feeling of community that comes with membership in SAIGE. “We’re like a big family. We get together and we share. You don’t find that in very many organizations, but in this one you do.”

National Congress of American Indians Chairman Joe Garcia will be the keynote speaker at the SAIGE Outstanding Achievement Awards. The awards recognize agencies and individuals who have made demonstrable contributions to recruiting, retaining and career advancement opportunities for American Indian federal employees.

Military and civilian personnel from different military branches will also be recognized at the conference for outstanding service during the Department of Defense Banquet and Awards.

SAIGE has partnered with Avue Technologies Corporation to help provide job resources for its members. Full and lifetime memberships are available to federal government employees and retirees. Student, associate and corporate memberships are also available.

Lorraine Jessepe can be reached at lorrainejessepe@msn.com.