Veterans at the National Congress of American Indians annual convention in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in October 2017. Photo: NCAI

National Congress of American Indians adds more speakers for big meeting in D.C.

The National Congress of American Indians is finalizing the schedule for its big meeting in Washington, D.C., next week.

The winter session officially kicks of Monday morning with the State of Indian Nations. President Jefferson Keel, who also serves as the lieutenant governor of the Chickasaw Nation, will deliver the speech at the Newseum. It will be webcast.

Later in the afternoon, the first meeting of NCAI's new Tribal Lands Workgroup takes place. The group was formed to address, among other issues, proposed changes to the land-into-trust process that tribes say will make it more difficult to restore their homelands.

According to the workgroup, the "draft regulations on Tribal Land recovery would increase the barriers considerably and give an increased role to state and local governments in deciding whether tribes are eligible to claim and restore our stolen lands."

Also on Capitol Hill, the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs is hosting a listening session on Monday afternoon to address gaps in protections and services for Native women.

NCAI's conference then moves to the Capitol Hilton for the remainder of the week. On Tuesday morning, tribal leaders will hear from four top Trump administration officials, including some new additions to the schedule: Secretary Ryan Zinke of the Department of the Interior; Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein of the Department of Justice; Treasurer Jovita Carranza of the Department of the Treasury; and Secretary Ben Carson of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Tuesday's schedule also includes a slew of members of Congress. Both parties are well represented: Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the chairwoman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee; Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), a prominent member of the House Committee on Natural Resources; Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-California), the Democratic leader in the House; and Rep. Norma Torres (D-California), the top Democrat on the House Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs, are among the lawmakers on the agenda.

Also on Tuesday afternoon, Secretary Carson's department is hosting a listening session on new regulations for the Section 184 Indian Housing Loan Guarantee Program. Details are scarce at the moment, though HUD has promised to post an explanatory document on prior to the meeting.

On Wednesday, attendees of NCAI's conference will be hearing the from the last Trump official on the agenda. That's Secretary David Shulkin of the Department of Veteran Affairs, who hasn't previously spoken to the organization.

In addition to updates on the U.S. Supreme Court and the Native vote, the schedule for Wednesday features even more members of Congress, including: Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-North Dakota), who serves on the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs; Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minnesota), the co-chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus; and Sen. John Hoeven (R-North Dakota), the chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

NCAI 75th Anniversary Historical Photo Album

75th Anniversary Historical Photo Album
Way Back When: NCAI 75th Anniversary Historical Photo Album

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma), a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation, is not currently scheduled to speak at NCAI, though he has frequently done so in the past. His chief of staff, Sean Murphy, who worked closely with tribes on legislation, suddenly passed away on Monday. Murphy leaves behind a wife and three children.

Another notable absence is someone from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Neither John Tahsuda, the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, nor Bryan Rice, the director of the BIA, are on the agenda at the moment

The BIA, though, will still be represented at NCAI, as Tahsuda and other officials are expected to be in attendance. The agency is also holding a listening on those controversial land-into-trust regulations on Thursday morning at the Capital Hilton.

As for Wednesday, the schedule also includes Tom Perez, who appeared before NCAI when he was Secretary for Labor during the Obama administration. He now serves as chairman of the Democratic National Committee, which recently elevated its Native American Council into a Native American Caucus.

NCAI's winter meeting concludes on Thursday, February 15.

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