This Sunday, traditional tribal canoes from the Grand Ronde, Warm Springs and Cowlitz tribes will come ashore at Portland’s Waterfront Park. Riders on horseback will join them in a ceremony to kick off the 68th Annual National Congress of American Indians Convention.
Tribes from across the continent and even around the globe are expected to attend. David Nogueras has this preview.
Here on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation many people know the voice of Marge Kalama. She host the show TalkingDrum, and another show, Our People and Mother Earth on public radio station KWSO.
“Ok, we’re at the tribal member art fair here and I’m talking with Rosie for her submission it’s called Indian Muscle Man....”
Kalama herself is an artist. Years ago she learned to bead in the tradition of the Cayuse tribe. She says one reason she’s excited to attend the NCAI conference is to see native people from different tribes all taking part in the same cultural celebrations.
“And I wanted to see that to see the different outfits and regalia from all the different nations.”
NCAI is the largest and oldest American and Alaska Native organization in the country. This marks the first time in 36 years the conference has been held in Portland.
Jacqueline Johnson Pata is the group’s executive director.
She says the organization is focused on building consensus and promoting the interests of native communities. This year, NCAI is expecting about 3000 participants.
“Whatever the issues that are effecting our communities we work to help advocate on polices and recommendations with Congress and the administration to be able to be able help shape polices that make sense for our communities and find solutions," Johnson Pata says.
Louie Pitt Junior is the director of Government Affairs and Planning for the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs. “I’ve attended a number a number of NCAI conferences and they’re very intense, full of the latest information that you have and approaches.”
He says the conference is a way for tribal leaders to come together to share what works and what doesn’t in their respective governments. But he also says it’s an opportunity to meet key policy makers.
This year the conference will hear from current and former members of Congress as well as representatives from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Interior Department, and the White House.
“If you’re really smart, or 'skookum' as we say, is that you can get some time with them on the side or over lunch or dinner or something like that and then just educate them about what we want to have, so you actually get to talk to the real decision makers.”
The organization has a lot on its agenda this week. The group plans to vote on about 70 resolutions to provide an ongoing direction for the next year.
The week also marks the launching of NCAI’s 2012 Native Vote Initiative as well as the beginning of the American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month.
No doubt, there will will be a lot of discussion on the perennial issues of natural resources, education, health care and improving economic conditions for all native people.
Pitt says despite the many differences among the tribes there’s also a lot of common ground.
“I think the big thing is that we’re not in it alone. That’s the big thing, the camaraderie, the spirit decor, we all get our strength and authorities from our lands an our people.”
Marge Kalama, the radio host from Warm Springs, will attend representing her station as well as her people. She says she’ll be looking to collect stories and make new connections.
“I’m really geared to collect information from as many people as I can and go though it and just compare our tribal issues with national issues.”
The annual convention of the National Congress of American Indians runs though November 4th.