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Tribal embassy nears reality

WASHINGTON – Officials with the National Congress of American Indians are close to sealing a deal on a building that will house a long-planned Embassy of Tribal Nations in Washington D.C.

Jacqueline Johnson Pata, executive director of NCAI, said at the organization’s State of Indian Nations address Feb. 10 that a negotiation was in the works and a deal could be in place by the end of the month.

“Indian country has gathered for the last several years to put together a campaign to create an embassy – a home for Indian country in Washington, D.C., so that we don’t have to be renters on our own land any longer,” she said after the address given by NCAI president Joe A. Garcia at the National Museum of the American Indian’s Rasmuson Theater.

The news received big applause from the predominately Indian audience.

A statement issued Feb. 11 by NCAI clarified that the organization is “making significant progress in negotiating and financing the purchase of a building to house our offices and establish our embassy.”

When Johnson Pata made the announcement, no official deal was in place and NCAI’s later statement indicated its officials were in negotiations with the owner of a specific building.

W. Ron Allen, NCAI secretary and chairman of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, said the focus is on a building located at 1514 P St., N.W. in Washington.

That address is in the Dupont Circle area near Embassy Row, where many foreign embassies and diplomatic facilities are located.

According to real estate listings, the 17,000 square foot office building with an 8,500 square foot lot is for sale at $8.5 million.

Listings indicate the facility is newly renovated, containing three office buildings and three carriage houses. It features an executive suite, and photos and descriptions of the interior indicate high ceilings, hardwood floors, remodeled baths, two new kitchens and one kitchenette. The parking lot has space for 22 vehicles.

“NCAI’s evaluation of classic embassy style buildings with parking show they have recently been purchased at more than 10 percent below the current market for similar properties and city assessed values,” said the organization’s statement.

Instead of renting its headquarters, which is currently the case, NCAI said owning a building in D.C. would benefit the organization in many ways, including enhancing the presence of tribal sovereign nations in Washington, increasing public awareness of NCAI and tribal governments, and improving the efficiency and work environment of its operations and activities.

NCAI officials also anticipate that owning a building will increase the value and long-term equity and stability of the organization’s assets.

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The statement further indicated that NCAI has been prudent in evaluating an opportune time in which to consider a purchase in the Washington commercial market.

“NCAI will benefit from the current softness in the owner occupied buildings category,” according to the statement. “As rental rates continue to escalate in Washington D.C, this approach will allow NCAI to get out of the rent cycle and thereby ensuring its long term viability via ownership.”

Allen, since the mid-2000s has been overseeing a campaign to raise millions of dollars toward establishing a tribal embassy. He said the idea was first spawned in the 1980s, and donations from tribes have been being saved up for some time.

“I’ve been in and out of so many buildings in Washington over the years. We think this is a pretty good one.” He said the new site would likely be able to house other Indian organizations.

Some buildings Allen has seen were much larger than the one currently on the table, but they were also much more costly. He estimated that the building under consideration is at least double the size of NCAI’s current space.

Several tribal officials welcomed the news of a soon-to-come deal, saying it will be wise for NCAI to own, rather than to continue renting.

Chickasaw Nation Ambassador Charles Blackwell, who has an office in Washington near Capitol Hill, is “thrilled,” although he said he’d like NCAI to own a building near Capitol Hill as well.

“But they’ve got an opportunity, and the bottom line is business,” he said. “It will be an exercise of diplomatic powers, and will draw attention away from using lawyers and lobbyists.”

To those who might question the expense, Blackwell noted that rent is costly, especially in Washington. NCAI did not disclose its current rental expenses.

Tex Hall, former president of NCAI, also hailed the news, noting that the campaign to secure a tribal embassy got serious traction during his tenure.

“It solidifies our status as sovereign nations,” said Hall, a member of the Three Affiliated Tribes.

Hall added that in this difficult economic climate, some might be wary of the cost of the project.

“There is big unemployment and poverty among our people – just getting by is the predominant issue. I think there has to be a targeted effort to help educate Indian country why this is worth it.

“In the end, this will be a visual example of what NCAI represents: sovereign nations. If we got something much cheaper, how would that make us look?”