WASHINGTON — “The time is now.”
In front of a packed Rasmuson Theater at the National Museum of the American Indian, the leader of the National Congress of American Indians gave an impassioned and powerful State of Indian Nations address.
It was President Fawn Sharp’s fourth time giving the speech and the first to be held in person since 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It comes about two weeks after President Joe Biden delivered his State of the Union address.
Sharp, Quinault Indian Nation, repeatedly mentioned the importance of showing up. That now, not only does Indian Country have a seat at the most important tables but it has influence at those tables.
“We have incredible momentum and now it is up to us as tribal leaders to just show up and demand more,” Sharp said. “More for our elders, more for our youth and more for our future.”
She touched on recent policy accomplishments for Indian Country, including securing advanced appropriations for the Indian Health Service, the reauthorization and expansion of the Violence Against Women Act and achieving parity with state and local governments on critical pieces of funding for tribes.
Sharp said now is not the time to settle but to double down on efforts to secure favorable federal policies that affect Indian Country.
Specifically, Sharp called for the passage of the Honoring Promises Act which would seek to fund tribal nations at levels promised through treaties. Additionally, she spoke of the inequality of dual taxation on tribal lands and the continued fight ahead for Native children and the Indian Child Welfare Act.
“While the Biden Administration has made historic commitments to meet the basic needs of tribal communities, federal funding, as we all know and see every single day, for our tribal programs remain far short from the debt the United States owes to our tribal nations,” Sharp said.
Each year, a member of Congress gives a congressional response. This year, U.S Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, shared taped remarks.
She noted the important responsibilities that she, and all other members of Congress, have to all tribal nations and thanked tribal leaders and advocates for all they do to strengthen Indian Country.
In her time as senator, Warren said she has introduced or co-sponsored more than 100 pieces of legislation on behalf of Indian Country.
“Here is the most important thing, I could not have done that work without you,” she said. “I could not have done it without the input, the guidance, the education and the wisdom from NCAI and from tribal leaders and advocates from every corner of the United States.”
The State of Indian Nations kicks off NCAI’s Executive Council Winter Session, the organization’s spring conference that brings tribal leaders to the nation’s capital.
Sharp sees a bright future for Indian Country and that the state of Native nations is strong. There is no obstacle or issue too large that tribes cannot overcome, together. It just has to show up.
“No weapon formed against us can ever prosper, no bullet, no piece of legislation, no court decision. If we exercise the rights that are inherently ours, if we step fully into that power and embrace it, every single day, with every single breath of our being, from sunup to sundown and every minute in between, nothing can stop us.” Sharp said.
“But first we have to show up. For our families, our communities, all tribal nations and Indigenous peoples around the world.”
Before Sharp took the stage Tuesday, NCAI Youth Commission co-presidents Caleb Dash, Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community, and Yanenowi Logan, Seneca Nation, gave a youth address.
It was the second time the youth have given an address of their own as the organization looks to have them more involved at its events.
In themes that would emerge in both speeches, Dash and Logan spoke of the recent strides that have been made in Indian Country, the need to come together and challenges still ahead.
In preparing his remarks, Dash was struck by a quote he shared with those in attendance.
“I am but a man and have the strength of a man,” Dash said the quote was.
“As one person, I am not able to do as much or create change without my peers, without my fellow youth commission officers, without my community or without my family. We, as Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island, we need to work together,” he continued.
The issues Native youth are championing are no small feats. From combating climate change to decolonizing data for missing and murdered Indigenous people to rematriation of Native remains; Native youth are tackling major issues.
“These are just a small fraction of the issues that the youth of Indian Country are taking the lead on,” Logan said. “Our research and passion in these issues has advanced our needs for a platform and that’s why present you with the youth State of Indian Nations today.”
Logan called on tribal leaders, advocates and allies to support Native youth in these endeavors, to engage in active dialogue and lend the support “they demand.”
Sharp gave them praise and noted how encouraged she is by the leaders of tomorrow.
“Just standing here in the back listening to our youth there is no question our future is in good hands,” Sharp said. “There is no question that the work we do is going to survive into the next century. There is no question that our youth are going to continue to take the legacy and gifts that we’ve given them to stand tall against any conflict, any force designed to take away our tribal sovereignty, to take away our sacred sites. I am so incredibly inspired every time I hear from our young people.”
A playback of the entire State of Indian Nations can be watched on YouTube.