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USET meeting to address myriad issues

MARKSVILLE, La. - Preparations are under way for the United South and Eastern Tribes Annual Meeting & Expo, which will take place Oct. 15 - 18 at the Paragon Casino Resort in Marksville. The event is hosted by the Tunica Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana.

The annual meeting is the largest gathering of representatives from the USET's 24 federally recognized member tribes. Members of non-federally recognized East Coast tribes also attend the event.

USET, which will be celebrating its 40th anniversary next year, is dedicated to enhancing the development of Indian tribes, improving the capabilities of tribal governments, and assisting its member tribes and their governments in dealing effectively with public policy issues and in serving the broad needs of Indian people.

The three-day event has a full agenda that covers numerous issues facing Indian country, with committee reports and presentations on the broad areas of health, education, transportation and natural resources taking center stage.

There is no shortage of issues that need to be addressed, said Brian Patterson, USET president and Bear Clan representative to the Oneida Indian Nation of New York's Men's Council.

''I think each tribe is facing its unique challenges from the Aroostook Band of Micmacs and the Canadian border issues they face along with the Mohawks and Senecas, from the Catawba Tribe facing a new governing body, to the Maine tribes and the management of their waters and the issues that will safeguard their waters, which goes to the root of their cultural identity as a people, to the Narragansetts fighting the challenges before them in the state courts, and the Seminoles battling the Florida governor for the right to conduct gaming, to the Alabama-Coushatta in Texas where the government won't even enter into negotiations with them,'' Patterson said, fluidly drawing these examples from dozens of others.

Despite the challenges, it is a very dynamic time in Indian country with a lot of forward movement and achievement, he said.

''The Mohawks in Akwasasne won an award from the Environmental Protection Agency that speaks loudly of the direction Indian country is going in using our cultural values and identity - the essence of who we are as a people - and applying them as a standard in caretaking the environment.''

Patterson's own Oneida Indian Nation, the owner of Four Directions Media, the parent company for Indian Country Today, landed the first PGA tournament in Indian country, and it was the first ''green'' PGA golf tournament.

''So Indian country is making a difference,'' Patterson said.

Those who arrive at the Paragon Casino & Resort on Oct. 14, a day before the annual meeting kicks off, can participate in the USET Scholarship Fund 4-Man Scramble golf tournament hosted by the Tunica Biloxi Tribe at Tamahka Trails Golf Club. Proceeds go to the USET Scholarship Fund.

On Oct. 15, the first full day of meetings begins with registration and a committee chairman's meeting. USET's committees cover the range of tribal concerns including commercial law, legislation, and economic development; culture and heritage; education; health; housing; natural resources; social services; transportation; tribal emergency services; tribal justice; and tribal administration.

Among the first day's presentations are a legislative update by Gregory Smith, a partner in the firm of Johnston & Associates; a discussion of the BIA's national issues with Principal Deputy Assistant Majel Russell; a talk on energy and minerals for sustainable economic development by Jeff Hunt, chief branch engineer with the Office of Indian Affairs; and a national tribal caucus update from Jamie Long, compliance officer for environmental planning with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

USET also emphasizes education, Patterson said. Among the invited guests are representatives from the National Indian Educational Association and the Harvard Project. There will also be a discussion about the tribal college initiative, Patterson said.

''Education is the key to our survival as a people. There can be no greater resource we can give to the future generations than education,'' Patterson said.

Additionally, there will be discussion on health issues, law enforcement and the upcoming national census, and a review of the BIA's draft Eastern Region Strategic Plan, a five-year proposed partnership between the BIA and the Eastern tribes to implement federal Indian programs and ''prudently'' manage Indian trust assets.

There are many issues to focus on, and even USET's own success has created challenges that it hasn't previously faced, Patterson said.

''So as more tribes build a sound economic foundation for our future generations and lead our people from 200 years of multigenerational trauma, it becomes even more important for our tribal leaders to stay strong and vigilant on issues of good governance and a sound approach to economic development and diversification. Certainly, our children and our children's children are depending on the decisions that we're making today,'' Patterson said.

The full agenda for USET's annual meeting and other information are available at www.usetinc.org.