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Kolby KickingWoman 
Indian Country Today

For the second consecutive year, the State of Indian Nations address given by National Congress of American Indians President Fawn Sharp, Quinault, was given virtually.

Sharp acknowledged that while much has changed in the world since giving the speech last year, tribes and Native people across the country remain resilient.

“Since the first time I stood here to deliver this address much has changed in the world around us,” Sharp said. “Yet when reality remains the 574 Tribal Nations, dozens of state recognized tribal nations and millions of Native peoples across the United States are as strong and resilient as ever.”

Monday’s address marked the 20th iteration of the speech given by the president of NCAI.

Sharp commended the Biden administration for enhancing partnerships in Indian Country and making a concerted effort in building stronger communication and listening to the priorities of tribes.

​​(Related: Biden administration brings changes to Indian Country)

From Biden’s presidential memorandum on tribal consultation to the record number of Native appointments in his administration, Sharp said everyone can see the tangible progress being made.

“Doors that were once closed are starting to open, doors that we open have become more welcoming in ways that neither we nor our ancestors have ever witnessed,” she said. “This is an important start, but it's up to us fellow tribal leaders to show up and walk through those doors so we can continue to push for meaningful consultation, for a stronger government to government relationship and ultimately, for free, prior and informed consent.”

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This year’s congressional response came from Kansas Democrat, Rep. Sharice Davids, Ho-Chunk. She echoed Sharp’s comments on how the current administration is putting forth the effort to be accountable to tribes.

Davids also made it clear that and advocated for tribal leaders to continue to reach out to their representatives in Washington.

“I want to make sure that you know, your message is definitely being heard in Washington, D.C. amongst my colleagues on Capitol Hill and certainly across the administration,” Davids said.

(Related: Redistricting: Removing Native voices)

Another common thread among both speeches was seizing the moment and building on momentum from the past year.

Sharp said inclusion of tribes in political and public discourse has never been higher and both talked about Indian Country’s strength when it comes together.

“When we move together as one, we are able to heighten the presence of tribal nations and claim our role as a vital part of the original American family of governments,” Sharp said.

She added, “America is only as strong as the foundation of its tribal communities.”

While the progress has been noted, both Sharp and Davids recognized there is still work to be done. Specifically, both women called for a Congressional Truth and Healing Commission to investigate and document assimilation practices during the boarding school era.

As for legislation that has been recently passed or in the works, Davids highlighted the historic investment in Indian Country through the Infrastructure bill. Davids described herself as an “infrastructure nerd” and said the bill will have a positive impact on Indian Country.

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“My colleagues and I worked diligently to ensure that this bill had $11 billion for Indian Country to create infrastructure investments in our climate, roads and to help bridge the digital divide,” Davids said.

Davids has also reintroduced the Native American Voting Rights Act of 2021 and is a co-sponsor of the Urban Indian Health Confer Act, which has been passed the House and awaits consideration in the Senate.

The bill would help ensure rural and urban communities health systems would have the proper resources available to them, help recruit and retain healthcare providers and work to make sure all Native communities have the highest possible quality of healthcare.

Issues in Indian Country are non-partisan and the time is right for tribes to build on what has been started to secure a better future for Native people across the country. 

“I have never been more excited about the progress we've made and the incredible opportunities in front of us,” Sharp said. “The time has come. The moment is now, let's get to work.”

A replay of the speech can be watched here.

Also making news on the day was the Interior department’s announcement that it is soliciting nominations for first-ever Secretary’s Tribal Advisory Committee.

The committee’s creation was announced during the 2021 White House Tribal Nations Summit that took place last November.

The committee will be made up of tribal leaders from the 12 Bureau of Indian Affairs regions and serve up to two-year terms.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland encourages tribal leaders to make submissions to have the best representation possible in what she said is “a new chapter of tribal engagement at the Department.”

“Tribes deserve a seat at the decision-making table before policies are made that impact their communities,” Haaland said in a press release. “The creation of this new Advisory Committee is a timely and much-needed development that will ensure Tribal leaders can engage at the highest levels of the Department on the issues that matter most to their people.”

This is an effort to facilitate better communication between tribal leaders and the department, both now and in the future.

Information on how the nomination process will work can be found at the Interior’s website.

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