There was an incredible amount of passion earlier this week at the mid-year conference held by the National Congress of American Indians on the lands of the Paiute, Shoshone and Washoe people, now Sparks, Nevada.

The organization’s first chief executive officer Kevin Allis, Forest County Potawatomi, called passion the crucial  ingredient when it comes to work in Indian Country. It was his second day on the job. He replaces Jacqueline Pata who was executive director for 18 years. 

Read more: NCAI ponders next steps after executive director Jacqueline Pata resigns Read more: National Congress of American Indians picks Kevin Allis as its first chief executive

President Jefferson Keel, Chickasaw, introduced Allis to convention attendees during the first general assembly.

“In preparing for this job I took a lot of time to learn about the organization,” Allis said in his address. “I can promise you I’m emotional, I’m passionate, and I’m up to the challenge.”

Allis has quite a few challenges. But many believe that the new leader can get the organization and Indian Country through many of these obstacles.

One of the greatest challenges of Native people talked about at the conference is diabetes. NCAI's Research and Policy Center Director Dr. Yvette Roubideaux, Rosebud Sioux/Standing Rock Sioux, reported that significant progress, yet, we still have a lot of work to do. Read more: 'So much progress' treating the diabetes epidemic in Indian Country

And NCAI's leadership will change in other ways. The deputy director Ahniwake Rose, Cherokee, will move to home to head the Oklahoma Policy Institute. Read more: Deputy director Ahniwake Rose is leaving NCAI

Rory Wheeler, Seneca, co-president of the organization’s youth commission, found interest in the “Tribal Youth and Juvenile Justice” session.

Native youth in urban settings are “more seen as targets on crimes” than non-Native youth. In rural areas, Native youth are “targeted more for lower level offenses,” such as underage drinking, with heavier penalties compared to non-Native youth, he said.

Tribes are working toward figuring out how to include “traditional and holistic practices” that can put youth on a healthy track, he said.

Another theme at the conference: Data.

There’s no doubt that Indian Country is turning toward data to make change in their communities. Data was sprinkled in many of the sessions, such as climate action, the First Kids 1st initiative, community change, genetic research, missing and unidentified persons cases, jails, and food sovereignty.

The 76-year-old national organization launched their Census campaign, “Indian Country Counts” with the slogan, “Our People. Our Nation. Our Future.”

Chairman of the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California Serrell Smokey attended the conference and brought staff so they could attend the Census trainings.

Smokey was particularly interested in how to form a complete count committee in his community. The committee would reach out to their constituents to ensure each person is counted, especially in hard-to-count populations, and encourage them to participate.

During the second general assembly, Asa K. Washines, Yakama, tribal affairs consultant for More Equitable Democracy, told the crowd how important it is to participate in the Census.

“When we talk about the Census, we talk about power,” he said. “Data is political power. Census is political power.”

(READ MORE: Census is less than a year away; A better count is essential for Indian Country)

Part of the Census also includes collaborating with other communities of color to make sure there is an accurate count of everyone. Again, these numbers influence policies, funding allocation, school districts, redistricting, and so much more between 2020 and 2030.

Derrick Johnson, president and chief executive officer of the NAACP sat on the panel of eight to talk about “cross-community collaboration” as well as Rev. Alvin Herring, executive director of Faith in Action.

All communities of color have differences but one thing that all have in common, as Herring pointed out, is the “challenging” and “perilous” they all do.

“It is challenging work and it can sometimes be perilous work. Isn’t your work like that too? Isn’t your work challenging? Isn’t your work sometimes perilous?” he said. “Don't you stay up late at night worrying about your community? Don’t you sometimes shed tears for the tremendous sacrifice, tremendous trauma that we’re all experiencing at a nation that has still yet to find its way?”

Those six lines rang true this week in policy, news, communities, and within the institution.

Attorneys, community members, journalists, and tribal leaders responded to the Supreme Court’s absence of a decision on the Murphy case yesterday.

Read more: Muscogee (Creek) Nation: ‘Dust will settle’ after Supreme Court pass on treaty case)

Tribal nations, medical services, and emergency management teams in the midwest are doing what they can to help their tribal citizens with the damages of flooding and tornadoes.

National HIV Testing Day and National Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Awareness Day occurred on the same day -- yesterday. Native communities face the consequences of these conditions each day of their lives or knows someone who does.

The sacrifice of the challenging and perilous work happens anywhere you are in Indian Country, in any line of work you do.

We just happened to witness it here at the mid-year conference. Tribal leaders hustled from session to session advocating for their communities or educating themselves so they can take the knowledge back to their nations. Coffee runs through them to keep themselves going and making the most of every minute they are away from their nation.

Tribal leaders and convention attendees even gathered in front of the television near the elevators to watch the First Democratic Debate. Indian Country Today hosted a live watch party during both nights of the debate on the second floor of the Nugget Casino Resort during the conference.

Coincidentally, cultural night occurred on the first night of the debate so viewers at the conference could watch and listen to drumming in the background, or walk down the hall to see dancers.

Advocates, leaders, community members and journalists carefully listened to any mention of Indian Country from the candidates. Indian Country Today's editorial team live blogged and tweeted during the debates.

The live watch party added something special to the week. On top of that, Indian Country Today filmed the pilot of the first national weekly television broadcast for Indian Country. It’s like a CNN for Native people. Read more: Live blogging the Democrat's debate Read more: Second debate night: Indian Country Today's live blog from Sparks

We filmed on location here at the hotel, at Pyramid Lake, in downtown Reno, interviewed some leaders and more. The team worked hard to bring history to you whether that’s on your phone, laptop or on your television. We creating something spectacular for you.

Passion existed everywhere.

And as Herring suggested we do as we continue to do the hard work: “Turn our passion into power.” This week was a great example of that. 

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Jourdan Bennett-Begaye, Diné, is a reporter/producer for Indian Country Today in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter: @jourdanbb. Email:

(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.)