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The National Congress of American Indians elected its leadership for the next two years and it’s a mix of new and old voices.

Fawn Sharp, president of the Quinault Nation, was elected the organization’s 23rd president. She is only the third woman to lead the intertribal congress. 

She succeeds Jefferson Keel who did not run for re-election. Keel is the former lieutenant governor of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma. Keel was elected to the position three different times, he served from from 2010 to 2013 and again from 2018 to 2019. He did not run for re-election.

Sharp was surrounded by friends and family after the election results were announced. She earned nearly 62 percent of the vote in a field of four candidates. The other candidates were Shaun Chapoose from Ute Indian Tribe, Chairman Harold Frazier from Cheyenne River Sioux, and Chairman Marshall Pierite from the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana.

She told the NCAI convention after her election: "We are going to succeed far greater than anything we could possibly imagine today."

“I expect a very busy workload,” Sharp told Indian Country Today. “I’m going to be spending a lot of time getting not only to understand the issues in every region but knowing the subject matter experts that we have, the people that are passionate in the different areas. It will be a busy year.”

But she cited a good reason for that busy year. “Just looking out at the young women the children that are here,” she said. “I just feel the strength of those future generations. “

Jeremy Conetah, Northern Ute, said he wasn’t surprised by Sharp’s victory. “It seems like when she was doing her debate, she was really informed and she really understood what we were looking for,” he said. “And I'm excited to see what she's gonna do.”

Tina Marie Osceola, Seminole Tribe of Florida, said she has watched Sharp in action as a member of NCAI. “I see a dedicated Native woman who's ready to take this country, Indian country, to where we need to be in the dialogue,” she said. “We've been so irrelevant for this past administration and I think that with her voice and her vision, that we'll finally be able to reclaim our relevance on the global stage.”

Joe Garcia, Ohkay Owingeh, and a former president of NCAI, said all of the candidates were qualified. “I've known Fawn for a long time,” he said. “She'll do good, but, if she needs any help or guidance, we're there to support her.”

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Steven Smith, Ramapough Lenape Nation, said it was a good outcome even though he voted for another candidate. He said he was impressed that other candidates were at a lunch that was hosted to support candidate Marshall Pierite. The message was clear from that, “whomever got in that he would support them if he wasn't the person and that he is looking forward to continued work with NCAI.”

Aaron Payment will serve as the first vice-president of NCAI (Photo by Aliyah Chavez)

Aaron Payment will serve as the first vice-president of NCAI (Photo by Aliyah Chavez)

Aaron Payment, chairman of Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, was re-elected first vice president of NCAI. He received 51 percent of the vote in a runoff against Joe Byrd, speaker of the Cherokee Tribal Council.

Clinton Lageson, Kenaitze Tribe, ran unopposed for treasurer position. Longtime treasurer Ron Allen did not run for re-election.

Juana Majel-Dixon was re-elected as the secretary.

All four offices, president, first vice president, secretary, and treasurer, comprise the executive board of NCAI.

The convention also honored Juanita Ahtone, Kiowa, who served in a variety of capacities at NCAI for 46 years. 

Her family said she attended every convention except one during that span. 

"You lent her to us for 46 years," said Ron Allen, treasurer. "We will always move forward with the spirit of Juanita Ahtone."

NCAI announced a $5,000 scholarship will be awarded to a Kiowa student at the end of the year in Ahtone's name.

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(Indian Country Today, LLC., is a non-profit news organization owned by the non-profit arm of the The National Congress of American Indians. The Indian Country Today editorial team operates independently.)