A “For Sale” sign is seen on the Embassy of Tribal Nations, the headquarters of the National Congress of American Indians, in Washington, D.C. Courtesy photo
> National Congress of American Indians puts prized property on the market
National Congress of American Indians puts prized property on the market
Thursday, December 8, 2022
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Embassy of Tribal Nations, the home of the National Congress of American Indians
, is on the market.
A real estate listing
describes the NCAI premises, located at 1516 P Street in the nation’s capital, as an “office for sale.” And a sign on the building
boasts of an “Elegant Embassy Style Property with Parking.”
The asking price is not provided on the listing, which is being handled by James Connelly of
Summit Commercial Real Estate. His company profile
shows he has handled sales for a number of “diplomatic clients” — another sign that the NCAI property is being marketed as a well-situated space for an embassy in Washington, D.C.
The Embassy of Tribal Nations, home to the National Congress of American Indians, is located at 1516 P Street NW in Washington, D.C. The property consists of three adjoining buildings visible on P Street, along with a parking lot and a separate building in the rear of the premises. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)
In fact, the location of the property, in an area of D.C. known for numerous diplomatic denizens, was a major selling point when NCAI asked Indian Country to support
— and fund — what would later become the Embassy of Tribal Nations. The building opened in 2009
and had housed the organization’s staff, along with other non-profit tenants, since then.
So news that NCAI’s headquarters is on the market has been met with stunned reactions.
“What a step back,” one well-connected tribal advocate said on Thursday. “That’s awful.”
“Yeah. Sad,” another Indian Country figure in the nation’s capital observed.
But another prominent person in D.C. suggested NCAI now has a chance to find a more suitable property to call home. With its multiple stories and staircases, the primary building at the P Street complex has long been out of reach for disabled Native people and those with mobility issues due to the lack of ramps, lifts and elevators.
“They need to find a place where people can meet — and an elevator for the handicapped and elderly,” the tribal advocate told Indianz.Com.
The Embassy of Tribal Nations consists of three buildings on P Street NW: 1514, 1516 and 1518. Additionally, the property includes a parking lot and a building in the rear, not seen on this map from the D.C. Office of Tax and Revenue website.
NCAI, which is the largest inter-tribal advocacy organization in the United States, did not return a request for comment about the status of the Embassy of Tribal Nations. An inquiry was sent via email in the early afternoon. A couple of hours later, NCAI sent out a press release
, jointly issued with the Native American Rights Fund
and the National Native American Bar Association
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But the potential sale of the property comes at time of considerable change for an organization founded in 1944 as a means to defend tribes and their sovereignty. NCAI is being sued for $5 million by its former chief executive, Dante Desiderio, for alleged workplace discrimination. A long-awaited initial hearing is taking place in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia
on Friday, December 16.
The monetary figure claimed by Desiderio, who was ousted from his job in August, after being placed on leave two months prior, incidentally is about half of the assessed value of the Embassy of Tribal Nations. According to the D.C. Office of Tax and Revenue
, the property at 1516 P Street is worth more than $10.3 million.
The NCAI headquarters, which is classified as a commercial property, has risen in value over the years, according to the office. It was purchased for nearly $7.6 million in May 2009, records available online
But with NCAI in transition, tribal advocates are speculating that the building no longer serves the needs of the organization. The recently hired executive director Larry Wright Jr.
, a former chairman of the Ponca Tribe
, does not maintain a residence in the nation’s capital, so he is not in the Embassy on a permanent basis — an arrangement that has raised eyebrows among some in Indian Country.
“The Washington telegram tells me that you’re not going to move to Washington, D.C.,” Rachel Joseph, a former chairwoman of the Lone Pine Paiute-Shoshone Tribe
, told Wright during the recent National Tribal Health Conference.
“I’m here to say: ‘How can we effectively advocate for tribal government if you’re not going to be in D.C.?'” Joseph said at the event, hosted by the National Indian Health Board
in the last week of September.
“Please tell me Washington telegram has a disconnect,” pleaded Joseph, who is seen by many as bringing “Auntie” guidance and wisdom to tribal affairs. “Are you gonna be here or not?”
“I don’t live here but I’m here anytime I need to be,” responded Wright, who lives in Nebraska, on the homelands of the Ponca people.
An Indian Country insider agreed with Joseph’s insistence on NCAI’s top staffer maintaining a permanent presence in the nation’s capital. “He has to be ready to go to the White House and Capitol Hill at anytime — moments notice,” said the person, who resides in D.C. and has worked closely with every major inter-tribal organization.
Larry Wright Jr., executive director of the National Congress of American Indians, is seen outside of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., on November 9, 2022. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)
But it’s not just Wright who isn’t utilizing NCAI’s headquarters on a regular basis. The Embassy itself has been closed to most visitors since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic
nearly three years ago. Many employees began working on a remote basis as a result.
And during the time in which Desiderio served as chief executive officer, NCAI’s workforce underwent changes of its own. About half of the organization’s positions experienced turnover between May 2021 and June 2022, accounting for about one employee every month under his tenure.
Since Desiderio’s suspension and eventual exit, NCAI has continued to see an exodus of talent — so much that the staff page at ncai.org/staff
was taken down months ago. Historically, the organization has employed about 38 people.
“Last I heard, they had about 10 people working there,” said a tribal advocate who once worked closely with NCAI.
National Congress of American Indians President Fawn Sharp is seen outside of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., on November 9, 2022. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)
NCAI President Fawn Sharp
, who is serving her second term in office
, has sought to address concerns about the management and direction being provided by the organization’s executive board
. During the Sovereignty Run
, for example, she met with tribal leaders with the hopes of answering their questions about the litigation with Desiderio, along with other issues.
“To date, little information has been shared with member tribes of the potential financial impact of litigation between the former Chief Executive Officer and NCAI,” President Martin Harvier of the
Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community
said in a September 23 letter
“As the SRPMIC is evaluating its membership for the coming year, I would like assurances from NCAI that no tribal membership dues have been, or will be, used for any costs related to the litigation,” said Harvier. His tribe, based in Arizona, met with Sharp during NCAI’s 1,787-mile relay run from Oklahoma to California in October.
“More generally, the SRPMIC believe it is important for NCAI to be more transparent with member tribes about the financial stability of the organization, provide a comprehensive plan for the long- term health of the organization, and to provide a better strategy for representing and advocating the interests of all member tribes,” asserted Harvier.
The Sovereignty Run concluded in Sacramento, where NCAI held its 79th annual conference
. The opening day of the event saw a spirited demonstration organized by critics of tribal disenrollment
, the controversial practice of removing people from the rolls of their respective Indian nations.
Although people close to NCAI were aware of the rally
ahead of time, the organization’s leadership seemed surprise by the turnout, according to people who witnessed it. Significant attention was directed to Vice President Mark Macarro, who as chairman of the Pechanga Band of Indians
has overseen the removal of hundreds of people
from his tribe’s rolls.
The conference was further marred when a tribal leader was victimized near the SAFE Credit Union Convention Center in downtown Sacramento, the capital of California. Attendees were told that an individual was assaulted and robbed and that they should not walk alone, particularly at night.
A person familiar with the incident further said the tribal leader, who asked that their identity be kept private, was badly injured during the mugging. The victim was “pretty beat up,” the person said.
NCAI’s next major meeting is the executive council winter session
, an affair in D.C. that usually draws top government officials and key members of Congress. The upcoming event, taking place February 20-23, 2023, marks the first in-person winter meeting since 2020.
The hearing in Dante Desiderio v. National Congress of American Indians
, No. 2022 CA 002830 B, will take place at 10am Eastern on December 16 before Judge Juliet J. McKenna. According to a court employee, the proceeding will be viewable online through the WebEx conferencing link attached to the judge’s courtroom
NCAI has asked for Desiderio’s lawsuit to be dismissed, or at least sent to arbitration as envisioned by the employment contract with the former chief executive. Records in the case can be accessed online at dccourts.gov
by using the “2022 CA 002830 B” Case Number.
Indianz.Com Map: Indian Country on Capitol Hill
Separate from the National Congress of American Indians, a number of Indian Country organizations make their home in a neighborhood known on Capitol Hill. The area is close to the U.S. Capitol, where the Navajo Nation
recently purchased a property intended to house a tribal embassy
Click on the red and blue markers on the map, or on the slider in the upper-left corner of the map, to explore Indian Country on Capitol Hill.
Indianz.Com on Google Maps: Indian Country on Capitol Hill