Candidates announce bid for the National Congress of American Indians

Unclear whether current president, Jefferson Keel, is running for reelection

Three tribal leaders from across the country have put their proverbial hat in the ring to be president of the National Congress of American Indians with less than a month before the organization’s 76th annual convention in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Fawn Sharp, president of the Quinault Indian Nation; Harold Frazier, chairman of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe; and Marshall Pierite, chairman of the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana are the three people who have made their candidacy known ahead of the convention.

The National Congress of American Indians did not respond to Indian Country Today to clarify whether or not current president, Jefferson Keel, Chickasaw, is running for re-election.

Chairman Frazier could not be reached for comment on his candidacy but posted on social media in early May that the Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Association nominated him for the role by resolution.

President Sharp made her announcement via YouTube earlier this week. Sharp served the national organization in the past as a regional vice president as well as vice president of the board.

She has been elected to five terms as president of the Quinault Indian Nation and sees “tremendous opportunity” for tribal nations in the backlash of the Trump presidency.

“Some of the key issues I’ve worked on, tribes have been able to really take a position of leadership where there’s been a leadership void on a wide range of issues,” Sharp said. “That’s something that I’m really looking forward to doing is maximizing opportunity that we have in the backlash of today’s negative climate.”

Her number one goal would be to achieve political equality with the United States. She said too often tribes think they have to rise to the level of the U.S. when other countries around the world already recognize and understand tribal sovereignty and their ability to freely determine their own futures.

Sharp cited the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and that the United States has been the last country to embrace it.

“The systemic problems we see across Indian Country can go back to our inability to exercise the full spectrum of authorities that is fundamental,” Sharp said. “It’s a basic attribute of our sovereignty and the rest of the world understands it and the United States doesn’t.”

She looks forward to hearing what other candidates have to say and is willing to commit to do what she can to advance collective interests if she is elected.

“As a singular human being, we are all quite limited,” she said. “Our strength is in realizing and understanding multiple perspectives from different regions.”

While President Sharp has experience working with NCAI, Chairman Pierite said he is fairly new to the organization. Although, he has worked on a couple of national task forces.

Hailing from the southeast, Chairman Pierite said he is running on the issue of climate change first and foremost, especially after seeing portions of glaciers fall into the ocean in Alaska when he was visiting the area with his wife and some campaign members.

“This has to be addressed and I think it should be addressed by Native American Country, we have to take the leadership role on it,” Pierite said. “No one knows more about Mother Earth than Native American Country.”

He added that being the National Congress of American Indians is the oldest, largest advocacy organization for tribal nations, it’s important to hold the organization accountable and ensuring accessibility, transparency and making sure everyone is represented fairly.

Chairman Pierite said it’s not about him but about Indian Country as a whole. He wants to protect and preserve tribal sovereignty, give a voice to Native youth and protect Native women; all while making sure no one gets left behind.

“We want to challenge and change the status quo of NCAI,” Chairman Pierite said.

Candidates will each be given five minutes to speak before the general assembly on Oct. 23 with voting taking place the following day.

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Kolby KickingWoman is a reporter/producer for Indian Country Today. He is Blackfeet/Gros Ventre from the great state of Montana and currently reports and lives in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter - @KDKW_406. Email - kkickingwoman@indiancountrytoday.com

(Indian Country Today, LLC., is a non-profit news organization owned by the non-profit arm of the The National Congress of American Indians. The Indian Country Today editorial team operates independently.)

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