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Fawn Sharp

President, National Congress of American Indians

Across the land, tribal nations are writing remarkable stories of cultural, social, political, and economic resurgence. Since time immemorial, Native peoples have stood on the principal rights that our Creator gifted us: the knowledge with which to care for and draw sustenance from our traditional homelands, to speak our languages and practice our lifeways, and above all, to freely govern our lands and communities. Yet despite that, we continue to face challenges that compromise our sovereign right to determine our own destinies. 

The 2020 State of Indian Nations is our opportunity to once again take our rightful place on a national stage to share our triumphs, challenges, and priorities with the U.S. government and all Americans.

The State of Indian Nations Address began in 2000 under the leadership of National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) President Susan Masten (Yurok Tribe). 

President Masten knew it was necessary for the broader American public to understand the current environment in which American Indian and Alaska Native people were living, working, and exercising their inherent rights of self-governance as part of the original American family of governments. She also felt it was important to convey NCAI’s priorities so Indian Country had an idea of how the organization would implement its marching orders.

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NCAI’s role for the past 76 years has been to act as Indian Country’s watchdog in Washington, D.C., by holding the federal government accountable to its trust and treaty responsibilities to tribal nations in every conceivable way. 

As the oldest, largest, most representative organization for American Indian and Alaska Native nations and communities, it works to protect and strengthen the inherent sovereign rights of the 574 federally recognized and dozens of state recognized tribal nations in the U.S. 

Among these things, the organization operates as a Congress, convening tribal leaders multiple times each year to deliberate and pass consensus-based resolutions addressing Indian Country’s most pressing issues and advancing its most urgent priorities.

This year is shaping up to one of the most significant in recent memory for Indian Country, particularly in the realm of civic engagement. The 2020 Census is the only opportunity this decade that Native people have to be counted and represented. Native participation in enumeration is critical for funding, programs, and visibility. Immediately following the Census, voting outreach and mobilization will increase dramatically with the November 2020 Election just around the corner. Couple these with other key dynamics such as the Violence Against Women Act, the Indian Child Welfare Act, advance appropriations, land into trust, and climate action among others, and it becomes clear that Indian Country has a lot to contribute to the national conversation about not just its own future, but America’s future.

The 2020 State of Indian Nations Address is our megaphone to this country and the rest of the world. We are not simply asking for a seat at the table – we are the legs, the very foundation, upon which the table was built. 

It is my sincerest hope that you will join us as NCAI channels the collective strength of our tribal nations and outline our vision for the next decade, the next generation, and beyond.

President Fawn Sharp leads the Quinault Indian Nation and the National Congress of American Indians.