NPR: Tribal leaders set national agenda at annual NCAI meeting

This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin.

A new exhibition at the Smithsonian Institution's Museum of African Art features everything from traditional masks to jewelry to fantasy coffins. You have to stay tuned to find out just what that's about, when we hear from museum director Johnetta Cole in a few minutes.

But first, just as new members of the U.S. Congress are preparing their legislative wish lists, Indian Country is setting its agenda for the coming year. That's been happening this week at a gathering in Albuquerque of the oldest and largest organization representing American Indians and Alaskan natives. Here to talk more about that is Jefferson Keel. He is president of the National Congress of American Indians. He's also lieutenant governor of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma.

Also with us is Juana Mejal Dixon. She's vice president of the National Congress of American Indians and a member of the Pauma Tribe of Southern California. I welcome you both and thank you so much for joining us.

Mr. JEFFERSON KEEL (President, National Congress of American Indians): Thank you for having us. We're excited to be here.

Ms. JUANA MEJAL DIXON (Vice President, National Congress of American Indians): Thank you for having me here.

MARTIN: President Keel, I wanted to ask what some of the priorities are for the coming year. Now, last year's wish list was, in part, fulfilled when President Obama held a Tribal Nation Summit at the White House. This was, as I understand it, the largest meeting of tribal leaders that had ever been held, you know, at the White House. And two of the key items discussed there were fulfilled: One was the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, and one was the Tribal Law and Order Act. So, what about this coming year? What are some of the priorities that you talked about?

Mr. KEEL: Well, we certainly want and expect to meet with President Obama in December in Washington again. We want to sustain the momentum that we've created over the past year. That you're absolutely correct; the Tribal Law and Order Act and the Indian Health Care Improvement Act were significant pieces of legislation that have been appreciated since last year. But we still have so many things to do. We want to make sure that in the budget cycle that none of the Indian programs are restricted or we lose any momentum.

And we also want to look at some other pieces of legislation. The Cobell case needs to be settled this year. It needs to be finalized and Congress needs to approve that. "

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American Indians Set National Agenda (NPR 11/18)

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