Message to tribal leaders: Learn new things and bring it home

Report from the annual conference of the National Congress of American Indians in Albuquerque

Tribal leaders are meeting at the annual conference of the National Congress of American Indians in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Tuesday included a wide-range of afternoon sessions about topics like food sovereignty, juvenile justice, education, tribal energy economies and international advocacy.

A key theme throughout the sessions? Encouraging tribal leaders to learn new things and take it home to their respective communities.

Here’s a recap of some of the sessions (that maybe you can see more information about after tribal leaders return home):

Becoming Visible: A Landscape Analysis of State Efforts to Provide Native American Education for All

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This session discussed new efforts for states to provide education about Native Americans in their K-12 school curriculum. The panelists spoke about the importance of including “accurate, specific and contemporary” content in their lesson plans.

“This curriculum about Native studies is important not just for Native students, it is important for all students,” one attendee said.

Panelists said positive representation of Natives in the media is a key point moving forward. “We’ve got to get involved in these discussions,” said Crystal Echo Hawk, chief executive officer of IllumiNative. “These are the next generations of voters and policy makers.”

The other panelists included Jodi Archambault, director of Indigenous Peoples Initiatives at Wend Collective, Yvette Roubideaux, vice president of the NCAI Policy Research Center and Diana Cournoyer, executive director of the National Indian Education Association.

Tribal Youth and Juvenile Justice: Research and Resources for Tribal Nations 

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As a result of research that shows Native youth are overrepresented in federal and state juvenile justice systems, this session introduced initiatives that various organizations have adopted to better support youth.

One initiative was led by Nick Costales, deputy director of Field Services at the New Mexico Children Youth and Families Department. He says the State of New Mexico adopted a new “tribal youth notification law” that requires tribal consultation when a Native child is involved with a juvenile office. Costales says this work was made possible through “consistent conversations with tribal leadership.”

The session also highlighted a new juvenile justice data resource guide created by the National Congress of American Indians that is a resource for tribal nations to learn more about this topic.

Tribal Food Sovereignty: Leading Approaches and Lessons Learned from Indian Country

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What is food sovereignty? Put simply: it is the ability of a tribal nation to produce and eat their own food. Panelists of this session say its purpose was to learn about tribal communities who have implemented various food sovereignty initiatives in their communities.

“Tribes will never attain true sovereignty without first obtaining food sovereignty,” said Loren Bird Rattler, project manager at the Agriculture Resource Management Plan for the Blackfeet Nation.

The session also explored the relationship between Native people and food, specifically saying that the wellbeing of Native communities can be seen through economic, social, cultural, mental and spiritual well being.

Other panelists included Chelsea Fish, project manager of the NCAI Tribal Food Sovereignty Advancement Initiative, Joanie Buckley, Internal Services Division director of the Oneida Nation and Twila Cassadore, pre-reservation Nnee/Ndee Diet and Health Care Project at the San Carlos Apache Tribe.

Expanding Tribal Energy Economies 

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This session involved three panelists including Rodney Cawston, chairman of the Colville Business Council. Cawston gave examples of the impact of energy production in his community, citing they are rich in natural resources with their 1.4 million acres of reservation land in Washington state.

Cawston says the Grand Coulee Dam, a dam on the Columbia River, is largely located on their land. For the last 80 years, since the dam was built, they have taken a “big loss” in the amount of salmon they have.

“I can’t even begin to tell you how much that’s impacted our people,” Cawston said.

He also says their tribe are feeling the effects of climate change. In 2015, they suffered from catastrophic fires after 200,000 acres of land were burned.

The session provided an opportunity for tribal leaders to hear about how other tribes are dealing with energy production but also involved how it can be an opportunity for tribal nations to be energy dependent in the future.

International Advocacy to Protect Tribal Sovereignty 

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This session discussed efforts underway calling for indigenous participation at various United Nations’ conferences. Dr. June Lorenzo, an attorney and consultant who is Laguna Pueblo and Dine, talked about her advocacy work.

“My personal hope is that there will be more indigenous involvement especially in the treaty negotiations,” she said.

The session also highlighted the importance of spreading “traditional knowledge.”

Panelists included Janene Yazzie, sustainable development program coordinator, Virginia Davis, NCAI senior advisor, and Sue Noe, senior staff attorney at the Native American Rights Fund. 

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Aliyah Chavez, Kewa Pueblo, is a reporter-producer at Indian Country Today's Phoenix Bureau. Follow her on Twitter: @aliyahjchavez or email her at achavez@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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