Mary Kim Titla: Behind the scenes on historic day
"Heading to the Tribal Nations Conference?” said a gentleman I assumed was a tribal leader outside the Donovan House Hotel the morning of President Barack Obama’s historic meeting with more than 400 of Indian country’s top leadership.

“Yes!’ I replied as he offered to share his cab. It turns out my cabmate was James Ransom, chief of the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe in New York.

We arrived at the Interior Department after 7 a.m. The line for tribal leaders was five people deep and stretched around the block. Each arrival greeted by chanting and drumming from a dozen people across the street carrying banners and signs pushing for the release of imprisoned activist Leonard Peltier.

The much shorter line for press had only a dozen journalists waiting to get checked in. A prior news release warned space was limited. It appeared only about three dozen journalists received credentials. A TV journalist in line said her photographer was already inside having braved the morning chill at 4 a.m. to secure a prime spot on the balcony of the Sidney R. Yates auditorium where most press had to sit.

The night before, a tribal chairman from the Great Lakes region told how he hired someone to get in line for him at 5 a.m. Apparently a lobbyist agreed to stand in line for another chief executive around the same time. It paid off for the Great Lakes chairman; he secured a front row seat.

As they waited for the president’s arrival, laughter and chatter filled the room as everyone re-acquainted with old friends and made new ones while posing for photos, sharing jokes and checking messages. The Who’s Who of tribal nations included noted elder Joseph Medicine Crow, of the Crow Nation, who was a recipient of the 2009 Presidential Medal of Freedom and who was also honored as Elder of the Year by the National Indian Education Association. Members of Congress, including Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Ariz., made their way around the room. I noticed Lance Gumbs, Shinnecock Indian Nation, who along with leaders of other state recognized tribes had complained about not being included on the invitation list with federally recognized tribes. I guess persistence paid off."

Get the Story:
Mary Kim Titla: Behind the scenes of a historic day (Indian Country Today 11/13)

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