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Tex Hall is Mr. Enthusiasm

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SPOKANE, Wash. ? The story is kept in the hat. A reporter from Alaska wants to know about the hat. The hat in question is a signature western hat that almost always sits on the head of new president of the National Congress of the American Indians, Tex Hall.

Though he has probably told the story a thousand times before, the indefatigable Hall takes the hat off and exuberantly explains he is a fourth generation cattle rancher in North Dakota.

He tells the story of how his great-grandfather used to ride the rails with his cattle to market in Chicago to ensure their safe arrival. Hall says this same care has been passed down through the generations and is symbolic of the kind of leadership that he wants to provide NCAI.

If his campaign is any indication, Hall's kind of leadership will be unbridled enthusiasm. If anyone did not know who Tex Hall was before the NCAI session, they got a crash course. He swept into town armed with a loyal group of supporters who soon plastered the walls at the Spokane Convention Center with Tex Hall posters. All of a sudden Hall was everywhere at once.

One moment he could be seen standing with 'Northern Exposure' star Elaine Miles, who he made sure to outfit in a 'Tex Hall for President' baseball cap, and seemingly the next he was working the room at a reception across the street. He was in and out of committee meetings and talking it up with the media.

Like Elvis, Hall was constantly surrounded by an entourage, led by his sister, Deb Thomas, who rivaled Hall for sheer enthusiasm. The comparison to the King is appropriate because with his high cheekbones, long sideburns and his good-guy persona, Hall certainly fits the part.

'I'm his biggest fan,' enthuses Thomas.

Hall's high-energy act is the natural extension of a person who has made a name for himself as a teacher, principal and superintendent at the Mandaree School in North Dakota.

His high energy propelled him to great athletic heights as a star basketball player at the College of Mary in Bismarck, N.D. His legendary basketball skills earned him induction into the North Dakota Sports College Hall of Fame in 1999.

Hall says he wants to turn his love for athletics into potential tribal programs to promote health and exercise on reservations. He says he fears American Indians have become too distant from their active pasts and that many health problems afflicting reservations are the result of poor diet and sedentary lifestyles.

Sedentary is certainly not a word to describe Tex Hall. His long resume includes posts and selections to broad variety of governmental, business, tourism and health care committees. Since 1998 Hall, a full-blood Hidatsa, has served as chairman of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, or Three Affiliated Tribes.

'Tex is the one guy who has broad enough experience and understanding to deal with such issues as a hostile presidential administration and Supreme Court,' says Kurt Luger, Cheyenne River Sioux, and executive director of the Great Plains Indian Gaming Association.

Hall's victory is widely regarded as a victory for Plains tribes. Before the convention there were rumors of tension between the large land-based tribes of the Midwest and the smaller and wealthier California tribes. Hall dismisses these rumors as unfounded and divisive. He says there are plenty of common interests between the tribes on such issues as taking land into trust and trust fund mismanagement to hold tribes together in a single coalition.

Brian Wallace, Hall's NCAI presidential opponent and chairman of the Washoe tribe of Nevada and California, agrees the issue has been overblown and says uniting issues far outweigh any perceived differences.

In regard to differences, Hall says he advocates a proactive style that brings parties together through mediation.

'I think that it's time for Indian people to think outside the box.'

Some people, however, think Hall can sometimes think too far outside the box. For example, one of his proposals is to advocate that the BIA be elevated to a cabinet-level post, a suggestion that drew mild criticism from several delegates.

'Tex is somewhere off in the lunar orbit on that one,' says one who asked to remain anonymous.

However after listening to one of Hall's rousing speeches, that same delegate seemed to backtrack, albeit slightly.

'Don't get me wrong, I would love to see the BIA go cabinet level, but I just think it might be a little too much to ask.'

Hall certainly is not the kind to mind asking, or telling for that matter, which brings us back to the hat. On the side is a pin. Hall explains that symbols on the pin represent the pipe and the buffalo. The Pipe carrier is a revered position for the Hidatsa and the buffalo is their most revered animal.