Back to The Forefront
October 14, 2009
NCAI President Joe A Garcia Opens 66th Annual Convention
NCAI President Joe A Garcia Opens 66th Annual Convention

Asst. Secretary for Indian Affairs Larry Echo Hawk, White House Officials,
Members of Congress Address Convention Delegates

PALM SPRINGS, CA-October 13, 2009-National Congress of American Indians President (NCAI) Joe A. Garcia addressed NCAI Convention delegates for the last time at the end of two terms as the organization's president, calling for unity among tribal leaders, and praising them for their accomplishments over the last four years.

"We have re-engaged and re-enabled ourselves from our spiritual side," he said to applause. "I feel it in this assembly and when I visit other tribal nations in the country. "In Alaska, North Dakota, Nevada, North Carolina, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Oklahoma--ladies and gentlemen, be proud of yourself because you have created this revival. We have learned our lesson. Through the Creator, NCAI will continue to promote this feeling of unity and progress across Indian Country."

Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Larry Echo Hawk addressed delegates and entertained questions for well over an hour while laying out his priorities as Assistant Secretary and those of the Obama Administration.

"I cannot do my job without feeling it," said Echo Hawk. "I have traveled around Indian Country. I have been across the country. I need to see it. When Indian nations asserting their treaty rights join with the United States of America, this country will accept that the tribes should be in the driving seat and realize this alliance must remain. This is what I realize that I need to do. I need to make sure that the United States is your partner and that together we work to ensure that treaty rights are upheld."

Echo Hawk expressed his strong commitment to improvements in Indian education, law enforcement and economic development. He also praised Department of the Interior (DOI) Secretary Ken Salazar as a "one who looks out for Indian Country," and announced the upcoming November 5th White House Tribal Nations Conference will be held at DOI.

Kimberly TeeHee, White House Senior Policy Advisor for Native American Affairs, made the announcement earlier that President Obama would fulfill his campaign promise to meet with tribal leaders on an annual basis.

"The Administration is making progress on a number of issues including public safety initiatives, as well as community and economic development," said TeeHee. "The FY2009 budget included education, healthcare, and law enforcement and this Administration has committed to improve on those."

TeeHee also noted President Obama's campaign promises that tribal leaders would have a seat at the table on improving the tribal consultation process and that the Administration has urged agencies to have listening sessions with Indian Country.

Sens. Max Baucus (D-MT) and Byron Dorgan (D-ND) both addressed the plenary session via video message due to their commitment to working on health insurance reform in Washington, D.C.

"Here in Washington we are looking forward to the most important legislation in a generation," said Baucus. "I am making sure that healthcare reform is right for Indian Country. I understand the situation of health in Indian Country. I'm working for it to be easier for Native Americans to enroll in federal healthcare programs. Native Americans will be exempted from the health mandate. I'm also pushing for an increase in the Indian Health Service budget in 2010."

"I have always been working hard on a bipartisan bill on Indian Law Reform," said Dorgan. "It is going to improve law enforcement on reservations. We also have a new bill with respect of energy on Indian reservations that tries to deal with the bureaucratic web that obstructs energy development and we have instituted a bill to get a national apology to Native Americans that is making good progress."

Congresswoman Mary Bono Mack (R-CA 45th), Vice-Chair of the U.S. House of Representatives Native American Caucus said she strongly supports the entrepreneurial spirit that has allowed some tribes to thrive.

"I proudly represent twelve tribes and work with them from water rights to environmental reform to everything else that affects them," she said. "We must support the sovereignty of tribal nations and I believe the government should not be taxing tribal health benefits. It is counterproductive and does not support the well being of health of tribal members. I know that Sen. Baucus is seeking to address the problem. The care provided to Native Americans is in dire need of reform."

Bono Mack also touted energy independence in America and how tribes should play a crucial role. "Tribes know better than ever how we can seek this energy whilst respecting sacred sites. We should aggressively secure our energy resources and create green jobs and Indian Country's input is crucial in doing this."

NCAI's 66th Annual Conference and Trade Show continues through October 16. The Trade Show is free and open to the public. For more information or press inquiries contact Adam McMullin at 202-422-8416 or

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