Keel's return to power -- he had served two terms as president during the George W. Bush era -- was marked by turmoil. NCAI's highest ranking attorney, who worked at the organization for more than 20 years, was ousted amid allegations of sexual harassment that are now the subject of a lawsuit in federal court in which Indianz.Com's parent corporation is one of the defendants. Following scrutiny of NCAI's workforce culture, the organization parted ways with Jackie Pata, who served as executive director for a record 18 years. Sharp, in campaigning for president, emphasized the need to hold everyone -- including leadership -- accountable but also said she would look for ways to "encourage good behavior" in order to "strengthen" the organization. "As the president of an organization, it is also important not only to lead by example, but to have a clear, clear set of expectations," Sharp said during a debate among the four presidential candidates last Wednesday. The debate was hosted by Indian Country, which is owned by NCAI but operates independently. The other candidates seeking NCAI's presidency expressed similar ideals of accountability and transparency in the days leading up to the election last Thursday. All were forceful in explaining their visions for an organization that remains the largest inter-tribal advocacy group in the U.S., yet one which has seen a loss in standing among Indian nations.
National Congress of American Indians Election Results:— indianz.com (@indianz) October 24, 2019
Fawn Sharp (Winner) - 61.97 percent @PresFawnSharp
Harold Frazier - 17.88 percent @CRSTChairman
Marshall Pierite - 15.29 percent
Shaun Chapoose - 4.86 percent @ChapooseShaun #NCAIAnnual19 pic.twitter.com/leGE34lp4o
Presidential candidates for the National Congress of American Indians are taking part in a debate at NCAI 2019.Posted by Kevin Abourezk on Wednesday, October 23, 2019
Dissatisfaction with NCAI spilled over into the race for vice president. A record four candidates ran for the office, and starting anew emerged as a common theme among them. “We need to get NCAI back in the right direction. We need to come back together as one," Joe Byrd, the speaker of the Cherokee Nation Council, said during his campaign speech last Wednesday, translating words from the Cherokee language. Lance Gumbs, the vice chair of the Shinnecock Nation, said he ran for office out of "frustration." Serving as an area vice president for NCAI's Northeast region gave him insight into one reason why some have walked away from the organization. "I felt that we were not listening to you, the tribal leaders," Gumbs said during his campaign speech on the general assembly stage. Julian Bear Runner, the president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, experienced the disconnect first hand. Earlier this year, he walked out a meeting featuring NCAI and the White House after feeling disrespected by then-president Jefferson Keel, who later offered an apology for his choice of words during the heated event. “The only way you can change something is to be a part of the change," Bear Runner said during his campaign speech as he explained why he returned to NCAI for the convention. "It’s time for a new generation of leadership." Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, emerged victorious after a second round of balloting against Byrd. Gumbs was knocked out in the first round. The outcome, though, was tight. Two years ago, Payment won the vice presidency with 70 percent of the vote. This time around, he said he had to "work for it" -- he defeated Byrd by less than 3 percentage points. "NCAI is what we make it," Payment said after winning another term as vice president. "This organization is representative of each of the tribal nations. We will work harder to get other tribes to come back. But we need to have a positive opinion. We need to work to make NCAI what we want it to be." "We are the strongest and oldest Native organization in this nation," Payment continued. "We will continue to build that."
Sharp and Payment were sworn into office on Friday as NCAI's convention came to a close. Joining the pair on the executive committee are Juana Majel-Dixon, a leader from the Pauma Band of Luiseno Indians, who won re-election as secretary against one candidate. “I”m going to continue to mentor the young blood leaders," Majel-Dixon said in a nod to her opponent, Quintin Lopez, a citizen of the Tohono O'odham Nation who made his first run for NCAI office after working with the organization since his teenage years. A newcomer to the executive committee is Clinton Lageson, who was named treasurer of NCAI after being the sole candidate for the position. He serves as treasurer of the Kenaitze Tribe, whose leadership has been critical of the organization's management in the past. "I want to thank Ron Allen," Lageson said of NCAI's most recent treasurer, another steady figure within the organization. "I know that I will be calling you quite a bit," he told Allen, who serves as chairman of the Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe. The four executive board officers are joined by vice presidents and alternative vice presidents for the 12 regions of Indian Country. According to NCAI, a record number of women are serving in these positions -- about half of the total number.
“I’ve known Quintin since he was 14 years old,” Juana Majel-Dixon from Pauma Band of Luiseno Indians says of her rival candidate for Secretary of the National Congress of American Indians. She supports Native youth in seeking another term in office. #NCAIAnnual19 pic.twitter.com/xLbafGAYOD— indianz.com (@indianz) October 23, 2019