Jefferson Keel, Deb Haaland share inspirational words at State of Indian Nations

Vincent Schilling

NCAI President Keel: ‘The state of Indian Nations is strong,’ Rep. Deb Haaland: 'Native women cannot be minimized'

The National Congress of American Indians hosted its 17th annual State of Indian Nations with NCAI President and Lt. Governor of the Chickasaw Nation Jefferson Keel delivering the State of Indian Nations address. The congressional response was a historic one, as Rep. Deb Haaland D-New Mexico, Laguna Pueblo, who is one of the two first Native American women elected to Congress, delivered the follow-up remarks.

Keel opened his remarks with the statement: “I stand here today to proudly proclaim to you, to Congress, the Administration, and the world: The State of Indian Nations is strong, and we grow stronger every day."

Keel stated that though Native people and tribal nations face strong “headwinds and resistance,” they are “crafting a great resurgence that is forging brighter futures for our communities and generations yet to come.”

The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) hosted it’s 17th annual State of Indian Nations with NCAI President and Lt. Governor of the Chickasaw Nation Jefferson Keel delivering the State of Indian Nations address. (Photo: Vincent Schilling)

Keel said the signs of this resurgence were everywhere, to include Wes Studi speaking his language at the Oscars, to Lyle Thompson turning a racially-based taunt against his Native ponytail, into a teachable moment.

Keel also said this resurgence was seen in the recent midterm elections in the states of North Dakota, New Mexico, Minnesota and more. He also mentioned a record number of Native candidates in federal, state and regional offices that won their respective elections.

“On election night, I rose to applaud Peggy Flanagan, who as Minnesota’s new lieutenant governor, become the highest-ranking Native woman elected to executive office in the United States."

"Like many of you, my spirit was stirred by Ruth Buffalo, who took the oath of office in North Dakota in her traditional regalia… and in our nation’s capital, I was deeply moved by the first two Native Congresswomen in U.S. history – Deb Haaland and Sharice Davids – at theirswearing-inn, embracing in a moment of solemn reflection about their historic achievement and all who sacrificed to make it possible. They join Tom Cole and Markwayne Mullin to give Indian Country its largest Congressional delegation ever.”

Keel continued to laud the efforts of Indian Country, to include the efforts of tribal communities coming together in the face of the longest government shutdown on history, the concerns of the NCAI in the face of climate change, and the Department of the Interior’s stance on land into trust legislation.

“The Department of the Interior cannot be allowed to simply make it up as it goes along when deciding whether to take land into trust for tribal nations, ignoring decades of established precedents in the process,” said Keel. “We demand the Interior rescind its Mashpee decision and recommit to its earlier precedent regarding land-into-trust applications under the 2014 Carcieri “M” Opinion.”

Keel said that the NCAI is reiterating the call to Congress to create an Under Secretary for Indian Affairs. He also asked Congress and the federal government to uphold treaty obligations to include “stemming the tide of violence against Native women...protecting the Indian Child Welfare Act” and investing in Tribal infrastructure.

“To Indian Country, I remind you that the National Congress of American Indians is your D.C. watchdog. we have your back in protecting tribal sovereignty and fighting for your priorities,” said Keel.

Deb Haaland’s Congressional Response

After a gracious bout of applause, including a standing ovation, Rep. Deb Haaland D-New Mexico, Laguna Pueblo, began her remarks by thanking NCAI President Jefferson Keel and the NCAI’s first Vice President and Chairman, Dr. Aaron Payment for the introduction and the State of Indian Nation’s address.

Haaland began, “We are standing on Indian land, and I thank all the ancestors for allowing me a voice in this space today.”

Haaland mentioned how Native people are weaving a story of themselves and that we would be bringing our “blankets, rugs, and baskets with us no matter where we go.” The Congresswoman said it was a way to “weave beauty into our environments.”

After a gracious bout of applause, including a standing ovation, Congresswoman Deb Haaland (NM-01) delivered her Congressional response at the State of Indian Nations. (Photo: Vincent Schilling)

“This is why at State of the Union Address last week I took my own blanket to save my seat because that is who we are. And to reshape the national narrative through our own voice, we must rethink how we represent ourselves in the larger picture,” said Haaland, to more applause.

She went on to describe how female students had desired to serve as leaders in their own tribes, but the positions were only available to males. She called out tribes who “continue to practice a European tradition of patriarchal governments that refuse to allow women a seat at the table.”

Haaland asked during her remarks regarding this patriarchal stance, “Is this the message that we should pass down to our youth?”

Haaland then focused on the crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. She stated she would work at the federal level to provide resources for “those who have continually been at the losing end of funding and advocacy.” She cited the US Commission on Civil Rights Broken Promises Report that “crime and victimization in Indian Country is caused by systemic under-funding of tribal law enforcement and criminal justice systems.” Haaland also said she would build on the legislative efforts of Savanna’s Act and the Violence Against Women Act to provide for resources needed in urban areas.

Haaland also said she would work to ensure the federal government would live up to trust responsibilities in the wake of the shutdown and would work diligently to preserve the environmental issues facing Indian Country, with emphasis on Chaco Canyon, that is threatened currently by oil and gas development.

Haaland then addressed the lack of broadband resources in Indian Country calling remote areas in Indian Country affected by lack of internet connections ‘Digital Reservations.”

“The federal government has also created a new reservation further isolating Indian Country and propelling us further into silence. This is a modern Digital Reservation. The lack of broadband for Tribes – and rural communities across our country is an injustice that hinders every facet of modern life including access to education,” said Haaland who cited that less than 10% of rural homes had broadband services, a rate lower than the rate of developing countries.

Haaland offered closing thoughts, focusing on the contributions of Native women throughout history to include Pocahontas, Sacagawea, Ruth Buffalo, LaDonna Harris, Peggy Flanagan and fellow Native Congresswoman Sharice Davids. “... My sister and dear friend Sharice Davids, a Ho-Chunk MMA fighter, who recently became the first LGBT Native American member of Congress.”

“The real narrative of Native women cannot be minimized—they are woven with resiliency and strength. My hope for you is that no matter where you are or what is going on in your life that you can create beauty as long as you always remember that every day is a good day to be Indigenous,” said Haaland.

About the State of Indian Nations


Since 2003, the President of the National Congress of American Indians has presented the State of Indian Nations address, outlining the goals of tribal leaders, the opportunities for success and advancement of Native peoples, and priorities to advance our nation-to-nation relationship with the United States.

Each year, the President of the National Congress of American Indians presents the State of Indian Nations address to members of Congress, government officials, tribal leaders and citizens, and the American public.

For more information visit

The National Congress of American Indians is the owner of Indian Country Today and manages its business operations. The Indian Country Today editorial team operates independently as a digital journalism enterprise.

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