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NCAI's Garcia hopeful with final State of Indian Nations
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Filed Under: National

National Congress of American Indians President Joe Garcia delivered his last State of Indian Nations speech on Tuesday and said he was hopeful with President Barack Obama in the White House.

As leader of the nation's largest inter-tribal organization, Garcia worked with the Bush administration on law enforcement and anti-methamphetamine initiatives. At the same time, tribes faced great opposition from the last president on key issues, especially the Indian Health Care Improvement Act.

But the outlook is changing with the first African-American in the Oval Office. Garcia, the chairman of the All Indian Pueblo Council in New Mexico, said tribes are looking forward to high-level access in the White House, along with an annual summit that Obama promised to hold.

"I am excited by the promise of a new day in Washington," Garcia said in a speech at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. "Our new president has said that we must 'be the change' we have been waiting for."

In the short term, Garcia called for tribal inclusion in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which passed the Senate as he was delivering his address. The bill contains upwards of $3 billion for Indian Country projects that will put people to work in the poorest areas of the nation.

"The Tribal Government Economic Recovery plan includes vital support for shovel-ready projects that will create over 50,000 local jobs that could help families such as this," said Garcia, referring to families in an Alaska Native village that are being forced to choose between food and heat. "When tribes flourish, the whole region around them will also flourish."

The House and Senate are working to resolve differences in the versions of the bill. Tribes are pitching their projects as ready to go within 90 days of passage and they have been busy lobbying members of Congress and federal officials for their share of the funds.

Looking further along in the year, Garcia again called for passage of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, which expired in 2000 and never cleared Congress amid opposition from the Bush administration and Republican lawmakers. But Obama, who co-sponsored a version of the bill during the 110th Congress, has said he will sign it if it comes to his desk.

"Reauthorization of this law would address the most basic elements of health care: doctors and nurses, mental health professionals, addiction counselors, and the medical equipment, facilities, even buildings required to provide even the most fundamental services," said Garcia.

NCAI's third priority item for the 111th Congress and the new administration is public safety. With crimes rates on reservations the highest in the nation, Garcia said tribes need more funding to ensure their communities are safe.

Finally, Garcia urged the federal government to improve the education of American Indian and Alaska Native students in public and Bureau of Indian Affairs schools. He said future economies will depend on the success of younger generations.

"People who finish high school have a higher chance to earn more money and are typically more consistently employed. When those young people go on to college, their income and employment is enhanced even more," said Garcia.

In a symbolic end to his final State of Indian Nations, Garcia, a lifetime council member at Ohkay Owingeh, formerly known as San Juan Pueblo, recalled the story of the canes that were given to his tribe by former president Abraham Lincoln. Obama has pointed to Lincoln as a model presidents and historians have cited parallels between the two leaders.

"As President Obama strives to unite America in these troubled times, I ask this: To think often of the Indian Nations, to answer the call of Native peoples, and to uphold the commitment to all of us—just as President Lincoln did in a time of even more profound and difficult American change," said Garcia.

The Lincoln canes, as they are known, were brought to Washington by Marcelino Aguino, the current governor of Ohkay Owingeh. The canes, which are passed along to each new Pueblo leader at the start of his term, were given to the 19 Pueblos in New Mexico on a visit to Washington in 1863 as a symbol of tribal sovereignty and the tribal-federal relationship. The Pueblos also have canes from the King of Spain and the state of New Mexico.

Relevant Documents:
State of Indian Nations | Indian Country Budget Request

American Recovery and Reinvestment Act:
H.R.1 | S.1

Related Stories:
NCAI president to deliver State of Indian Nations (2/10)

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