By Lucinda Hughes-Juan -- Today correspondent
LAKE TAHOE, Nev. - Tribal representatives and state delegates from across the nation met for the 58th annual Governors' Interstate Indian Council meeting and conference to address local and national Native issues. About 100 representatives from U.S. state commissions on Indian affairs, state government appointed commissioners, representatives and tribal leaders attended.
The conference was held Sept. 9 - 13 at the Horizon Casino Resort in Lake Tahoe. This year's conference theme, ''Moving Forward Together into the Future,'' reaffirmed the importance of a shared commitment to address the serious challenges facing Indian country today, remarked Judi gaiashkibos, Ponca, who was elected GIIC president for a second term during the session.
Indian affairs directors and commissioners attended presentations on the most current issues facing American Indians, including methamphetamine addictions, law enforcement and homeland security; state recognition mechanisms for tribes; and an update on the 2010 U.S. Census. Leading off the conference were introductions and greetings from local Nevada tribal leaders, state Commission Chairman Theodore Quasula and Nevada Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki.
Highlights of the conference included a self-produced video presentation by local Native high school students on the meth epidemic in their community. Native American Club members from Yerington High School in Yerington shared their message with attendees. ''We wanted to get the message out about how meth is affecting our community [and to] get more groups and more communities to make efforts [to address problems of methamphetamine use].''
Another highlight was a presentation on current civil rights issues being faced by Natives. ''There are many problems that still exist with Indian civil rights ... Indian trust issues and broken promises ... The concern of opposition, not to promote a race-based government rather than honoring trust in recognizing tribal rights is one of them,'' said Arlan Melendez, chairman of the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony and a commissioner on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. He recommended participants work toward the development and stronger involvement in state-level civil rights commissions to help address these national concerns for Native civil rights.
During the conference, the GIIC passed resolutions including one on the recognition of American Indian/Alaska Native/Native Hawaiian veterans, support for the aboriginal peoples of Hawaii, and homeland security and emergency management. GIIC also amended its election bylaws to allow for two-year terms for its officers. New GIIC officers are Vice President Ernest House, Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs; Secretary Eloise Josey, Alabama Indian Affairs Commission; and Treasurer Sherry Rupert, Nevada Indian Commission.
During the conference, attendees welcomed the opportunity to network and share experiences.
''GIIC is a great forum for individuals engaged in state/tribal government relations work to convene and share what works. Tribal/state relations is evolving across the nation, and New Mexico can serve as a model for other states. Governor Richardson has taken the lead by elevating the office of Indian affairs to a cabinet-level department. This sends a strong message that our governor is committed to allowing Indian people to have a voice in state government,'' said Benny Shendo Jr., cabinet secretary for the New Mexico Indian Affairs Department.
The GIIC has been an ongoing effort on behalf of several state governments to address common Native interests. It began in 1947 when Minnesota Gov. Luther Youngdahl expressed concerned about federal government involvement in Indian affairs. He proposed an alternative by recommending that American Indians work together to address common concerns. In 1949, Youngdahl organized a meeting with other states with substantial Indian populations to send delegates to a meeting in St. Paul. One year later, in an official meeting of the National Governors' Association, the GIIC was made a permanent organization by resolution, according to the GIIC Web site. Over the past 45 years, the organization has worked through state governments to address issues and concerns of Native nations.
Today, GIIC members share an optimistic hope for the role GIIC will play in upcoming tribal efforts. ''I believe that there is the potential for the GIIC to have a tremendous amount of impact on national issues ... however we have not, as an organization, realized that potential to its full capacity. I believe that supporting national organizations such as the National Congress of American Indians, National Indian Health Board, National Indian Education Association and the National Native American Basketball Invitational is a step in the right direction. Further, I believe that paying close attention to other national organizations such as the National Governors Association and the National Conference of State Legislators and supporting [or opposing] initiatives that affect Indian people is also important to the GIIC,'' said Kenneth Poocha, director of the Arizona Commission of Indian Affairs.
Participants and members concluded the conference with new ideas and contacts from sister organizations throughout the nation that could help address important Native issues.