Tribal leaders in Washington for NCAI winter session

The National Congress of American Indians is meeting in Washington, D.C., this week for its annual winter session. Here's a rundown of some of the issues tribal leaders will be discussing and some of the happenings taking place during the week.

Judicial Nominations
NCAI President Tex Hall will talk about tribal opposition to former Interior solicitor Bill Myers, an Idaho lawyer who has been re-nominated for a spot on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Tribes were instrumental in the campaign that defeated Myers last year but Republicans, who control the Senate by 55-45, think they have a chance of putting the former lobbyist for the ranching and grazing industry on a court that hears a large number of Indian law cases.

NCAI will be joined by the National Wildlife Federation, one of many environmental groups on record against Myers, to discuss the nomination at the Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing room this morning at 10am. Mike Jackson, president of the Quechan Nation, whose sacred lands are threatened by a gold mine that Myers paved the way for, has been invited to talk.

Judicial nominations are also on the agenda tomorrow, when retired Republican Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell is scheduled to address NCAI delegates. Campbell voted last fall to end the Democratic filibuster against Myers. He is now with the law and lobbying firm of Holland & Knight.

FY06 Budget
Tribal leaders and Indian organization have condemned President Bush's latest budget and they will have a chance to voice their complaints directly to administration officials like Michael Liu, assistant secretary for public and Indian housing, Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns and Michael Brown of the Department of Homeland Security.

NCAI attendees will also get to share their views with a number of friendly members of Congress. Among those on the agenda; Rep. Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma), Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-North Dakota), Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Rep. Dale Kildee (D-Michigan), Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Washington) and Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R-Arizona).

Honors Go To...
NCAI will honor three people this year during its 7th annual leadership awards dinner tonight. They are: Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Dan Lewis, member of the Navajo Nation and senior vice president at Bank of America and Richard West, a member of the Cheyenne-Arapaho Tribes and director of the National Museum of the American Indian. The NMAI staff, who put on the September opening of the museum, will also be honored.

Famous Dave Anderson
Recently resigned assistant secretary Dave Anderson made his debut at NCAI's winter session a year ago this month. He followed with a public swearing-in at the Interior Department and a well-attended reception for tribal leaders.

Someone forgot to order the barbecue at that soiree but NCAI isn't holding it against Anderson. The former Bureau of Indian Affairs head will be thanked during a farewell reception at the National Museum of the American Indian on Tuesday evening. Barbecue will be provided.

Trust Reform
Trust reform will the subject of a special meeting on Thursday morning where tribal leaders will discuss possible Congressional action to settle the Cobell v. Norton lawsuit and reform the Indian trust. The House Resources Committee already held a hearing on the subject on February 16 and the Senate Indian Affairs Committee is planning one on March 9.

As for the main conference, the Interior Department and the Bureau of Indian Affairs have not planned on sending a representative to NCAI. The BIA unofficially boycotted the winter session in 2003, drawing the anger of some tribal leaders.

Special Meetings
A handful of special meetings are being held before and after the official conference. Among other topics, the meetings will focus on the Indian Land Consolidation Act, turnout for the Native Vote 2004 campaign, federal recognition, the White House Conference on Aging and telecommunications. Tribal leaders already met on Saturday to discuss the Tribal Sovereignty Protection Initiative, which includes judicial nominations, Supreme Court cases, jurisdictional issues and Congressional bills.

Receptions, Receptions
It's always fundraising time for members of Congress and several are taking the opportunity during NCAI to hold receptions for visiting tribal leaders. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-New Jersey), Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Washington), Rep. Rick Renzi (R-Arizona), Rep. Dale Kildee (D-Michigan) and Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-Rhode Island) have scheduled meet and greet time.

Former Congressional candidate Kalyn Free is also holding a reception tonight for her new organization, the Indigenous Democratic Network. [http://www.indnslist.org]. Free is raising money to encourage more Indians to run for public office at the local, state and federal level.

Relevant Links:
National Congress of American Indians - http://www.ncai.org