Like so many others, my tribe, the Chickasaw, was removed from our home in Mississippi in the 1830s. We were uprooted from our homes, driven hundreds of hard miles across the rivers and mountains, enduring unmentionable hardship, losing almost half of our tribal members, to what is now known as Oklahoma. There, we started over, and we rebuilt our nation. Our love of our culture and our commitment to our values kept us strong, and enabled us to persevere. Today, we proudly call ourselves the Unconquered and Unconquerable Chickasaw Nation. And, we are among the strongest economic forces in Oklahoma. In every part of this land, we see the enduring resilience of Native peoples. We are a wellspring of governing ingenuity and local solutions to tough challenges, indigenous knowledge and environmental stewardship, and new jobs and economic growth. Yet, too often – and for too long – Indian Country has been overlooked. This must end.
Indian nations have weathered every conceivable storm. We have overcome in the face of unthinkable challenges to our lives and our ways of life. We have stood steadfast in the face of policies meant to disperse and extinguish us. Today, we say with one voice: WE HAVE INHERENT RIGHTS. Not only were we born with them – we have earned them: The right to be recognized as equal governments. The right to be seated at the table where key decisions are made. The right to contribute as much to America’s future... just as we are contributing to its present. We are at an important moment. Our governments and our communities stand on high alert. For too many years, the echoes of America’s colonial past have continued to reverberate: Disparaging rhetoric. Failed policies. A disregard for the inherent sovereignty of tribal nations. This is unacceptable. Our message for our representatives in government is this: RESPECT OUR RIGHTS. See us as equal partners. And uphold the federal government’s trust responsibility to tribal nations. Do so not on your own terms, but on the terms as they have been defined by hundreds of treaties, policies, and legal precedent. That is our standard. That is a non-negotiable condition of our support at the polls on Election Day.
"Respect our rights. See us as equal partners. And uphold the federal government's trust responsibility to tribal nations." - President Keel #SOIN2018— NCAI (@NCAI1944) February 12, 2018
Far too often, people seem to forget just how profoundly Native peoples have influenced the world in which we all live today. In developing agriculture and building infrastructure... in managing lands and natural resources... in governing and solving shared community challenges... we are – and have always been – innovators and leaders. I want to touch on a few of these topics, starting with the food Native people put on our tables. From wild rice and bison to salmon and blueberries, traditional Native foods are not only our way of life but are an economic driver too. Indian agriculture is a 3.2 billion-dollar industry, supporting nearly 72,000 jobs in Indian Country. And in 2018, NO Farm Bill should pass – UNLESS it includes our priorities to recognize tribal governments as sovereigns and to strengthen Indian Country’s agricultural potential. Native peoples are also builders and managers of roads and bridges, and other essential infrastructure. These projects are often in rural areas. They connect tribal and surrounding communities with each other, and the rest of the Nation. Tribal infrastructure is American infrastructure. In 2018, NO infrastructure bill should pass, UNLESS it includes Indian Country’s priorities. It must: Offer us the same opportunities to raise capital as state and local governments. Invest adequate, equitable funding in our infrastructure needs. And remove barriers to us from making decisions at the local, tribal level. Reaffirm our right to consent to developments that affect our lands and our people. And in doing so, ensure every community has the infrastructure to thrive in our shared, 21st Century America. Native peoples are also innovators. Long before we conducted trade with newcomers, starting in 1492, Native peoples had woven a complex web of international commerce. The Tohono O’odham was one of many nations to establish a network of trade routes that spanned the entire Southwest. Similarly, when Lewis and Clark arrived on the shores of the Pacific Ocean, they saw the same tools, with the same symbols, that they had seen in what is now North Dakota.
Today, tribes continue to serve as economic engines across this continent. The Chickasaw Nation and the other tribes in Oklahoma contribute Billions of dollars to the state and local economies every year. In Arizona, Native businesses generate hundreds of millions of tax dollars... and pay 1.9 billion in wages to tens of thousands of Native and non-Native employees. In Mississippi, the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians provides 6,000 full-time jobs through its diverse array of businesses, more than half of which are held by non-Natives. It also has re- invested over $500 million of its profits in economic development projects across the state. Not only do these jobs often pay more than other jobs, they’re not going anywhere. You’re never going to read about how they are being moved overseas. Because Native businesses don’t pull up stakes, even when market conditions change. We root our businesses in our local communities—for good. You want to ‘Buy American’? Then do business with Indian Country. And when tribal economies prosper, surrounding communities prosper. To that end, Congress and the Administration should adopt the measures that tribal governments have deemed critical to spurring economic development: Remove the outdated burdens placed on Native businesses... starting with the ones that require us to go to the federal government for permits that tribes could readily furnish. Remove obstacles barring tribes from accessing and leveraging capital. Pass the Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act, which affirms our right to determine our own labor regulations ... just as city, county, and state governments are allowed to do. We have the right to build our own economic futures on our lands. On our own terms. When it comes to our lands and resources, Native peoples were the original conservationists.
#NativeAg is a $3.2B industry. No Farm Bill should pass - unless it includes our priorities to recognize tribal governments as sovereigns and to strengthen #IndianCountry #Ag potential. #FarmBill2018 #SOIN2018— NCAI (@NCAI1944) February 12, 2018
Long before the first churches and cathedrals were erected in America, we held relationships of faith and reverence with sacred places across this land. Today, we must work to preserve the sanctity of these places, and in some cases restore access to them, so that they can continue to provide cultural and spiritual sustenance. Those who argue for the privatization of our lands believe that granting individual property rights will fuel economic development. However, they ignore the impact it would have on our sovereign authority to protect our homelands, economies, and cultural resources for future generations. For these reasons, it is critical that land policies be developed with tribes from the outset, through true consultation and dialogue, on a government to government basis. We say to policymakers: We have cared for this place for millennia. Seek our time-honored indigenous knowledge and expertise. Recognize our role and value in managing these lands to prevent costly mistakes, and produce better outcomes. We must remove the barriers that keep us from generating an estimated 1 Trillion dollars through solar, wind, and traditional energy resources. Remove the barriers that prevent us from restoring tribal land bases according to our priorities. Our lands made the United States what it is. Our wisdom will continue to sustain it, just as our wisdom played a role in creating it. We know something about governing. We were peoples before "We the People".
Under 477, tribal nations and Native organizations can choose to consolidate up to 13 federal programs into a single process with a single reporting requirement, while still addressing distinct local needs and priorities. To date, more than 260 tribal nations and Native organizations have taken advantage of 477, enhancing program efficiency and effectiveness and making real impacts in the lives of Native people. Lives like Nicole Manzano’s. At the age of 25, Nicole had been a caregiver for her grandmother for many years. Her grandmother’s death was a huge blow, and Nicole had to deal with her grief while building a new life with little work experience. She came to Citizen Potawatomi Work Force and Social Services, where 477 tethered programs gave her access to training in resume building, applying and interviewing. She got a local full time job, and assistance with gas vouchers, clothing, and basic food until she became financially stable. Stories like Nicole’s prove that enhancing 477 is smart policy. It affirms that the program has been a success – and could be an even greater one. But we shouldn’t stop there. We should use this model - which puts tribal nations and communities in the driver’s seat, where they belong – as a model to replicate across all other areas of federal Indian policy.
Sen. Tom Udall delivers response to the State of Indian Nations (February 12, 2018)
National Congress of American Indians lines up speakers for big meeting in D.C. (January 24, 2018)
National Congress of American Indians welcomes Secretary Zinke again (January 17, 2018)