Indian Country descends on DC for Obama inauguration
President-elect Barack Obama arrived in the nation's capitol on Sunday, as the Washington, D.C., Indian community prepared to celebrate the inauguration of the 44th president.

The festivities start today, with a gourd dance and a powwow at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City in Arlington, Virginia. The public is invited to both events, which have been organized the American Indian Society of Washington.

The big celebration takes place tomorrow, after Obama is sworn in as president. Upwards of 3,000 tickets have been sold to the 11th American Indian Inaugural Ball, making it likely the largest in the organization's history.

"It is an exciting time for us to celebrate the new administration and Indian Country’s sovereign relationship to it," said Michael Nephew, a member of the Seneca Nation of New York who serves as president of AIS.

The ball features a star-studded lineup of entertainment, representing tribes in the U.S. and .First Nations in Canada Over a dozen performers, including Keith Secola, Gary Farmer and Joanne Shenandoah, will take the stage in a in a concert sponsored by the American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association and the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

AIS is also honoring LaDonna Harris, a member of the Comanche Nation of Oklahoma, and Mitchell Bush, a member of the Onondaga Nation of New York, at the ball. The two national Indian leaders will be presented with the Lifetime Legacy Award.

The day after the inauguration, AIS continues a tradition with the 11th American Indian Inaugural Brunch on Wednesday morning. All events take place at the hotel in Arlington, where tribal leaders are doing more than celebrating as they prepare to do business with the new president.

Over 400 tribal representatives are attending a meeting today to discuss their priorities for the new administration and the 111th Congress. They got a head start with a speech from Ken Salazar, Obama's nominee for Secretary of the Department of the Interior.

"We have some great opportunities yet some major challenges ahead of us," said Salazar, a first-term Senator from Colorado. "But we will only address those challenges through a spirit of consultation. The Department of Interior will work hand-in-hand with Indian Country to address the challenges of our time. We have to make sure that Native American communities of the United States are never left outside of the tent again."

Salazar went before the Senate for his confirmation hearing last week and pledged to improve economic development on reservations and Indian schools. Though he didn't provide a lot of details, his presence at today's meeting was eagerly welcomed.

"What a way to start 2009 and a new relationship with the incoming Obama administration," said Joe Garcia, the president of the National Congress of American Indians. "It is encouraging that Sen. Salazar is putting Indian Country’s agenda at the top of his priority list before he even takes the oath of office.”

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