Indian Country shows support for Washington Embassy

Hundreds of thousands of dollars were pledged on Wednesday as tribal leaders, individual Indians and Indian organizations showed enthusiastic support for the Embassy of Tribal Nations in Washington, D.C.

The last day of the National Congress of American Indians annual winter session proved to be one of the most exciting as donation after donation poured in for the proposed embassy. Everyone from former assistant secretary Dave Anderson to individual tribal members opened their pockets to ensure that American Indians and Alaska Natives secure their own home in the nation's capitol.

"This town is the town that has the most impact on Indian Country," said Ron Allen, the chairman of the Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe of Washington who, as treasurer of NCAI, is overseeing the campaign to raise $12 million for the embassy.

Billy Frank Jr., a member of the Nisqually Tribe of Washington who sits on the embassy board, stirred the crowd with a passionate speech that stressed the need for a place that will show the country that the first Americans are surviving and thriving. "We are here to stay," he said. "We are long-timers. We aren't moving through here just today and tomorrow. We're here from now on."

For the next half-hour, attendees confirmed Frank's sentiments by contributing to a special NCAI fund that will be used to make a down payment and pay for a building to house the embassy. Money came from tribal governments of all sizes, like $10,000 from the large Tohono O'odham Nation of Arizona and $1,000 from the small Wiyot Tribe of California.

It also came from tribal members like Larry Anderson of the Navajo Nation, who gave $500, and attorney Loretta Tuell of the Nez Perce Tribe, who pledged $1,000 in the name of her 5-month-old daughter. Tributes in honor of people like the late Quinault leader Joe De La Cruz ($1,000) poured in as well.

Retired Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colorado) stepped up the effort by offering money left over from his campaign account. "The first tribe that will donate $50,000 to this effort" he told NCAI, "I will match with a personal check for $50,000."

Campbell didn't have to wait long to make good on his promise. A few minutes later, Ernie Stevens Jr., the chairman of the National Indian Gaming Association, met the challenge.

Anderson, who left the BIA earlier this month, followed with another $50,000 challenge. And the Prairie Island Indian Community from Anderson's home state of Minnesota quickly met it.

Besides Campbell and Anderson, the biggest personal contribution of the day came from Juana Majel, a member of the Pauma-Yuima Band of Luise�o Indians from California and secretary of NCAI. She pledged about $700 a month from her own account for a total of $25,000 over five years.

But no donation was too small either. Vernita Herdman, an Inupiat from Alaska, pledged her monthly bingo game -- about $50 a month -- for every year until the embassy is complete. "I will challenge other bingo players to do that," she said.

Allen said NCAI needs an initial investment of $2 million to make the down payment and then $10 million to complete the purchase of a building. On the other hand, he said, continuing to rent an office space will cost more in the long run.

Locations for the embassy are still being scouted in the downtown Washington area. The goal is to have NCAI and other Indian organizations like the National Indian Education Association housed in the building.

"This is something that is important to all of us," Frank concluded. "We're lighting the council fire today."

Stay tuned! Join Indianz.Com tomorrow for the Day 3 wrapup of the NCAI 2005 winter session.

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