‘Undeniable truth … Indian nations’ are strong

Kolby KickingWoman

Rep. Deb Haaland pulled no punches in criticizing the Trump administration, including the administration’s downsizing of Bear Ears National Monument

One week after President Donald J. Trump gave his annual State of the Union address, laced with divisive rhetoric and odes to settler colonialism, National Congress of American Indians President Fawn Sharp, Quinault Indian Nation, let tribes across the country and people around the world know the standing of Indian Country in 2020.

“I stand before you today, supported by more than 600 tribal nations and governments across this land to share with you this undeniable truth, the state of Indian nations is strong,” Sharp said emphatically near the beginning of her State of Indian Nations address.

Sharp was elected president of the National Congress of American Indians at the organization’s most recent annual convention in Albuquerque, New Mexico; the 23rd president since its founding. She is the third woman to be elected to the position and is the first woman to give the State of Indian Nations address.

This was the 18th iteration of the speech, which annually lays out the vision and goals for Indian Country; as well as recommendations to the federal government where they can work more closely with tribes.

“The purpose of this annual address is to memorialize and affirm the enduring government-to-government relationship between tribal nations and the U.S. government,” Sharp said.

Sharp highlighted the progress on a number of issues facing Indian Country as well as some challenges that still remain. Perhaps her biggest call to action though was for tribes to raise the bar and issue a new standard of accountability to the federal government.

As a part of being held to this new standard, Sharp called for the federal government to pass a clean Carcieri fix, advanced appropriations for the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Indian Health Service, ending attacks on the Indian Child Welfare Act and much more.

“This is what we demand and this is what we deserve,” Sharp said. “We will settle for nothing less, and we will exercise our rapidly growing political power and voice in Washington and at the ballot box against any and all who fail to meet this standard.”

The address kicks off the organization’s Executive Council Winter Session which brings tribal leaders from across the country to the nation’s capital. One of those tribal leaders in town for the conference and in attendance for the speech was Amber Torres, tribal chairman of the Walker River Paiute Tribe.

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Torres found the speech empowering and is interested to learn more how tribal leaders can support the efforts President Sharp brought up over the course of the speech. Torres added it’s important for Indian Country to be at the table where decisions are made.

“If we’re not at the table, we’re on the menu,” Torres said.

It was the first State of Indian Nations address that Torres has been able to attend and she added that it made her want to dig deeper as a tribal leader to make sure she is maximizing her full capacity for Indian Country.

Since 2016, a member of Congress has followed the State of Indian Nations with a congressional response. For the second year in a row, Rep. Deb Haaland, Laguna Pueblo, D-New Mexico had that honor.

Rep. Deb Haaland, Laguna Pueblo, D-New Mexico (screenshot)
Rep. Deb Haaland, Laguna Pueblo, D-New Mexico (screenshot)
Fawn Sharp and Deb Haaland - hearing
NCAI President Fawn Sharp, Quinault, speaks with Rep. Deb Haaland, Laguna Pueblo, after the "Broken Promises" oversight hearing. (Photo by Jourdan Bennett-Begaye)

Rep. Haaland pulled no punches in criticizing the Trump administration in respect to some of the actions they have taken against Indian Country since taking office.

She cited the administration’s downsizing of Bear Ears National Monument by 85-percent and the Grand Staircase Escalante by 50-percent, attacks on climate change and the lack of formal interaction between the administration and tribes.

In regards to missing and murdered Indigenous women, Haaland has worries about the president’s recently signed Executive Order creating the “Operation Lady Justice Task Force,” saying it lacks transparency and doesn’t have the voices of survivors or tribal leaders included.

“If we are truly going to address this crisis we need the Administration to recognize the centuries of violence that Native people have endured, which won’t be solved without concrete procedures and with only $1.5 million,” Haaland said.

In the upcoming year, Haaland said there are two critical issues that rise above all else; the Census and 2020 general election. Haaland urged all of Indian Country to take part in both.

“The president’s disdain for decency and respect of human beings and our institutions are untenable,” Haalan said. “I urge Indian Country to devote every possible resource to electing a president who reflects the values that define us.”

Both Sharp and Haaland spoke of learning from ancestors who endured great sacrifice. That by working together, Indian Country can ensure a future for generations to come that they hoped and prayed for.

“We are strongest when we think and act as one regarding the things that matter most to all of us,” Sharp said in closing. “When we join together, we are an unstoppable force capable of overcoming our greatest challenges and achieving our greatest and unimaginable futures and aspirations.”

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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.)

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Kolby KickingWoman is a reporter/producer for Indian Country Today. He is Blackfeet/Gros Ventre from the great state of Montana and currently reports and lives in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter - @KDKW_406. Email - kkickingwoman@indiancountrytoday.com

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