In address Hall invokes the seven generations
MONDAY, FEBRUARY 3, 2003
| STATE OF INDIAN NATIONS: National Congress of American Indians President Tex Hall and executive director Jackie Johnson. January 31, 2003. Photo NSM. |
The leader of the largest inter-tribal organization on Friday delivered what was billed as the first ever State of the Indian Nations address, calling on the federal government to honor its obligations to American Indians and Alaska Natives.
Wearing his trademark cowboy hat and dressed in a traditional ribbon shirt, National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) President Tex Hall touched on a broad range of issues. From trust reform to gaming to health care, Hall said Native people can't be left behind.
"Native Americans are the fastest growing segment of the population by percentage -- in the face of policies aimed at ensuring our destruction, we have chosen survival," he told an audience in Washington, D.C., and those tuned in via the C-SPAN network. "Now we seek not just to survive but to thrive."
Lasting about an hour, the speech was as much an educational tool as it was a description of the state of Indian Country. Hall tied today's high rates of poverty, domestic violence and unemployment to historic neglect by federal policymakers.
"We do not exist today in a void -- our past and our future span out from us in this moment, telling the true story of who we are and what we can be," he said.
Hall focused on three major areas: the government-to-government relationship, economic development and health and welfare. He characterized each by the struggles tribes face and offered suggestions to improve the state of affairs.
With regard to trust reform, Hall said it was "an issue of basic survival." He called on President Bush to become involved in fixing the broken system, which cannot account for billions of dollars owned by individual and tribal beneficiaries, by directing Secretary of Interior Gale Norton to resume talks with tribal leaders.
"It is time to do what is right and accept the fiscal responsibility for fixing this problem that has been so many years in the making before more damage is done," Hall said in proposing a two-day summit with government officials this spring.
Hall criticized both Republicans and Democrats for not developing concrete plans to address rampant unemployment and poverty among Native Americans. He cited bureaucracy, state intrusions on tribal commerce and the lack of infrastructure on reservations -- nearly a quarter of all Indian households lack basic telephone service, according to federal statistics -- as impediments to successful economic development.
But there are bright spots, he noted, mostly due to the $12 billion and growing Indian gaming industry. He said tribes are providing needed jobs even if revenues aren't uniform across the country.
Health, education, the environment and homeland security made up the final tier of Hall's speech. He called on Bush to fulfill mandates to provide health services to Indian people and to ensure that the No Child Left Behind Act includes Indian children.
Hall also pointed out the high rate of military service among American Indians and Alaska Natives. During a question and answer period, he was asked about potential action against Iraq.
"I would hope that we give peace a chance," he said, referring to the ongoing United Nations inspection process. "But if war happens our people will be there again. They will be there to defend this country in probably more numbers per capita than any other group in this country."
After the speech, Jackie Johnson, executive director of NCAI and a member of the Tlingit Tribe of Alaska, said it was developed by NCAI staff in consultation with other national organizations like the National Indian Gaming Association, whose president Ernie Hall was in attendance. The "buy in" was needed, she said, in order to broaden support in Indian Country.
About a month of work went into it, she added, during which it was chopped down from about two hours to its current length. She also pointed out that Hall didn't have the "luxury" of skipping over an historical review of Indian Country. "This is just the start," he said.
Founded in 1944, NCAI represents more than 200 tribal governments in the lower 48 states and Alaska. Tribal leaders will meet in Washington, D.C., at the end of the month for NCAI's annual winter session.
Relevant Documents: The State of Indian Nations Today: Mapping a Course for the Next Seven Generations
(January 31, 2003)
National Congress of American Indians - http://www.ncai.org
Related Stories: State of Indian Nations speech on C-SPAN
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