ONEIDA NATION HOMELANDS, N.Y. – The new president of United South and Eastern Tribes said he hopes to follow in the footsteps of his predecessor.
Brian Patterson, Bear Clan representative to the Oneida Nation of New York’s Men’s Council and USET’s new president, said he was inspired to run for the organization’s top position by the dedication and accomplishments of Keller George, Oneida Men’s Council Wolf Clan representative, who retired after an unprecedented six terms as president.
“The only reason I considered the position was because Keller George was able to school me and will continue to counsel me as past president, and also fulfill his role as an elder. I am deeply honored to accept the presidency of this great organization and to continue the legacy of dedication and commitment established by Keller George,” Patterson said in an interview with Indian Country Today.
George was such an outstanding leader that USET amended its bylaws in order to allow him to serve multiple terms, Patterson said.
“If I can accomplish a quarter of what Keller George has done, I’ll consider myself successful,” Patterson said.
Patterson, 42, was elected at USET’s fall meeting, which was hosted by the Choctaw Tribe of Mississippi at its Pearl River Resort in early October. His term began upon his election.
USET is a nonprofit, intertribal organization that formed in 1968 with four tribes, and now represents 24 federally recognized tribes from Maine to Texas. The organization promotes Indian leadership, provides a forum for shared ideas and generally advocates collectively on behalf of the tribes with local, state, national and international governments. Its motto is “Because there is strength in unity.”
“USET’s work has never been more important for the future of Indian country. This group has shown that there is: indeed ‘strength in unity,’ and Indian nations have never needed that strength more than they do today,” Patterson said.
Patterson takes over the intertribal organization at time when tribes are facing a multitude of challenges.
“It’s never been more paramount for Indians to be united,” Patterson said. “There are many, many issues. Most pressing is our health care issues, our education incentives to support our youth and leaders of tomorrow and, at the same time, protecting our natural resources, and enhancing our shared cultural integrity of our nations. There are issues of continued cuts from the BIA and Department of the Interior and maintaining our current levels of funding. But perhaps most important is to continue looking forward for the future generations. That is our ultimate responsibility on this earth as tribal leaders – to make a different for the future generations.”
While tribes struggle with the same issues of health care and education as the dominant culture, they also face an unparalleled and spreading attack on their sovereignty, Patterson acknowledged. Ironically, the “anti-Indian sentiments that people expressed” are due in part to the growing economic development and success of some tribes, Patterson said.
“As our economic development grows, it draws more attention. In addition, I think it’s fair to say that some people are trying to do an end run around issues by attacking our sovereignty, and that’s why its never been more vital and crucial to have ‘strength in unity,’” Patterson said.
Patterson will serve a two-year term. He and the other USET officers were elected by the organization’s board of directors, which consists of two representatives from each member tribe.
Patterson also paid deference to candidate Eddie Tullis, Poarch Band of Creek, who ran for the president’s seat.
“Eddie Tullis has served Indian country since 1969 and particularly USET. Eddie is a very honorable man. He’s held all the elected positions with USET – treasurer, secretary, vice president and president,” Patterson said.
USET holds three meetings a year. The next will be the Impact Week in February 2007, in Washington, D.C., when members meet with representatives from federal agencies and Congress. As USET president, Patterson will set the agenda for all meetings.
Patterson said he is ready to face the challenges these times present. A bit of luck is needed for the work, Patterson conceded.
“But truth, honesty, strength and courage, and the sacrifices our ancestors made to allow us this time and place on this earth, are what we have to focus on as leaders today for the generations of tomorrow,” Patterson said.