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Kolby KickingWoman
Indian Country Today

Truth and reconciliation.

This was not only the theme of the National Congress of American Indians’ 77th Annual Convention & Marketplace, but in the words of organization president Fawn Sharp, Quinault, a call for “a new era, a new chapter” of Indian Country’s advancement and growth.

“There has never been a truth in this country. A truth about our experience as Native American people,” Sharp said in her opening address this week.

“We tribal nations know that once we demand that the truth be told, and we demand a reconciliation back to those basic foundational principles upon which this country was built — principles like justice, like equality, like liberty, like the freedom to just live as our ancestors have lived from when time began — only then can we begin a healing process as a country and as a nation.”

The annual convention is NCAI's biggest event of the year, providing tribal leaders from across the country the opportunity to catch up with one another and shape the organization’s policy objectives for the upcoming year.

The year's event was originally slated to be hosted in Portland, Oregon, but was forced online due to the pandemic. However, the week’s agenda didn’t appear to be slimmed down due to the circumstances. 

The week began with an unexpected announcement of the resignation of NCAI Chief Executive Officer, Kevin Allis, Forest County Potawatomi Community. Although the resignation is not immediate, there has been no mention of who will next fill the role.

Kevin Allis

In his 18 months as CEO, Allis said he accomplished the goals he set out to achieve and the organization remains in good hands to make positive impacts in Indian Country.

"Now we're at a point that we can launch and move forward into an even higher stratosphere and be even more valuable in a way that our founders envisioned 77 years ago this month in Denver," he said. "I say that because my work is done; we have made it to where we need to go. And now it's time to pass the torch to a new executive officer that will take what we've built in the last 18 months and take it even further."

(Related: National Congress of American Indians CEO resigns)

In a town hall Thursday evening moderated by Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community Chairman Keith Anderson, Sharp outlined the policy goals for 2021. She stated the need to deal with COVID-19 and economic recovery from it, infrastructure, racial justice and equality, sacred sites and natural resource protection, and environmental justice and climate change.

“When you look at the broad range of issues, it all comes back to the theme of our conference, a truth and reconciliation,” Sharp said. “We have to reconcile this country to those foundational principles of social justice, of economic justice and certainly of environmental justice.”

The town hall also featured U.S. Reps. Deb Haaland, Laguna and Jemez Pueblo, of New Mexico, and Sharice Davids, Ho-chunk, of Kansas.

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As president-elect Joe Biden deliberates on potential cabinet appointments, tribal leaders have made it clear they would like to see a Native person in his Cabinet, particularly Haaland in the position of secretary of the Interior. Anderson shared with attendees that he signed on to a letter, along with more than 100 other tribal leaders, calling for a Native to be appointed.

Earlier this week in an interview with the Huffington Post, Haaland said she would accept the role, should it be offered.

“Oh yes, of course,” she said. “Of course.”

Having just won her reelection bid and looking at the immediate future, Haaland said during the town hall that it’s an important responsibility for members of Congress to make sure current and future administrations consult with tribes when it comes to issues that affect them.

“We need to have a federal government that is listening, that includes people, has tribal leaders at the table,” she said. “I'm always, always going to fight for that.”

Echoing Haaland’s sentiments, Davids touched on the historic nature of the upcoming 117th Congress having a record number of Indigenous members. She also mentioned the importance of prioritizing tribal communities and educating fellow members of Congress on tribal sovereignty, the tribal-federal relationship and treaty rights.

“These are all things that we've seen have been especially important in this term,” Davids said. “When in the context of the policy between the federal government and tribal governments has played a huge role in things like the Trump administration's attempt to dissolve reservation land.”

Davids is glad to have more representation at the table, with the increase in Native voices at the Capitol.

“I can definitely say it's weird that I'm not going to be a freshman now,” she joked.

Despite the occasional technical glitch — and a number of “Can you hear me?” “Can you see me?” questions from Zoom participants — the convention appeared to be a success overall.

In closing, Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians Chairman Aaron Payment, who presided over the final general assembly, thanked everyone who participated.

“Go out and fight for our people,” Payment said as he adjourned the convention.

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Kolby KickingWoman, Blackfeet/A'aniih is a reporter/producer for Indian Country Today. He is from the great state of Montana and currently reports for the Washington Bureau. For hot sports takes and too many Lakers tweets, follow him on Twitter - @KDKW_406. Email -

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