President Jefferson Keel of the National Congress of American Indians addresses the organization's 75th annual convention in Denver, Colorado, on October 22, 2018. Photo: NCAI

Tribal leaders gather in nation's capital amid threat of another shutdown

By Acee Agoyo

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Hundreds of tribal leaders are in the nation's capital for a historic week of events that could end with another government shutdown.

The State of Indian Nations, followed by the winter session of the National Congress of American Indians, are meant to promote the strength of tribal communities and shine a light on the trust and treaty responsibilities of the United States. The presence of the first two Native women in the U.S. House of Representatives also adds a new level of significance to the events, one fueled by a strong sense of hope and purpose.

But tribal leaders heard bad news as they began what otherwise promises to be a banner week. President Donald Trump and Congress -- divided between Republicans and Democrats -- remain far apart on a deal to fund the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Indian Health Service and other federal agencies.

“Is a shutdown entirely off the table? The answer is ‘no,’” Trump's acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said on NBC's Meet the Press program on Sunday.

If a deal isn't reached by Friday, everyone is in line for another round of punishment. following the record-breaking impasse that put the squeeze on tribes and urban Indians. The shutdown is expected to be a huge topic of discussion this week as tribes share their stories, hear from key members of Congress and press the Trump administration for results.

NCAI on Vimeo: State of Indian Nations

State of Indian Nations #SOIN2019
National Congress of American Indians President Jefferson Keel will deliver the 2019 State of Indian Nations on Monday morning. It will be his sixth time doing so but this year's speech is a special one because Rep. Deb Haaland (D-New Mexico), who broke barriers and became one of the first Native women in Congress, will be providing the response to it.

"The SOIN address will outline the goals of Indian Country, the opportunities for success and advancement of Native peoples, and the priorities for our nation-to-nation relationship with the United States," NCAI said ahead of the address.

The event takes place at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., Tune in live starting at 9:30am Eastern.

The State of Indian Nation isn't the only time tribes will get face time with Rep. Deb Haaland (D-New Mexico), who is a citizen of the Pueblo of Laguna, during the week. She and Rep. Sharice Davids (D-Kansas) who hails from the Ho-Chunk Nation, are hosting an open house on Monday afternoon at the U.S. Capitol. The session is yet another example of the ways the pair are working together to #IndigenizeCongress in ways never seen before.

NCAI Winter Session #ECWS19
The National Congress of American Indians kicks off its annual winter session at the Capitol Hilton in D.C. on Tuesday morning.

Three of the four tribal citizens who serve in Congress will be addressing the meeting, giving tribal leaders a historic opportunity to hear from Rep. Deb Haaland (D-New Mexico), Rep. Sharice Davids (D-Kansas) and Rep. Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma), a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation, in one setting over the week. Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Oklahoma), a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, is the only one who hasn't confirmed his attendance, though he has been invited and has spoken to NCAI in the past.

For Haaland and Cole, who are speaking back to back on Tuesday, the session marks their first speaking engagement since being selected as co-chairs of the Congressional Native American Caucus, a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the U.S. House. Haaland is the first Native woman in that role while Cole is returning to the leadership position.

But the lawmakers aren't the only draws this week. Key members of the Trump administration -- including President Trump's nominee to lead the Department of the Interior -- will speak to tribal leaders, plus the White House has decided to host its first large-scale listening session with tribes, after letting prior initiatives like the White House Tribal Nations Conference and the Council on Native American Affairs go dormant.

Highlights: Tuesday, February 12
• Congressman Tom Cole (Oklahoma)
• Congresswoman Deb Haaland (New Mexico)
• Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan (Minnesota)
• Jeannie Hovland, Commissioner, Administration for Native Americans
• Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (California)
• Supreme Court Project Update
• Congressman Raúl Grijalva (Arizona)
• Congressman Will Hurd (Texas)

Also on Tuesday, the newly created House Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples of the United States will hold its first hearing of the 116th Congress.

And in the evening, NCAI will host its 21st Annual NCAI Leadership Awards Banquet. There are five honorees this year.

Highlights: Wednesday, February 13
• Congresswoman Sharice Davids (Kansas)
• Indian Child Welfare Act Update
• Senator Lisa Murkowski (Alaska)
• David Bernhardt, Acting Secretary, Department of the Interior
• Tara Sweeney, Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs, Department of the Interior
• White House Tribal Government Listening Session (Note: Not open to general public or press)
"The White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs and the White House Domestic Policy Council invites tribal leaders to a listening session with White House officials," NCAI said on its agenda. "These listening sessions will serve as a new platform for tribal leaders to directly engage with the White House; identify key issues effecting tribal nations; and provide a foundation for future collaboration."

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