On February 10, 2020, National Congress of American Indians President Fawn Sharp became the first woman to deliver the NCAI’s 18th State of Indian Nations address. President Sharp, the third woman ever elected as NCAI President, also serves as President of the Quinault Indian Nation. The State of Indian Nations address sets priorities for Indian Country and encourages the federal government to work more closely with Native peoples.
It was monumental and historical to be in the audience as President Sharp used her address to “affirm the enduring government-to-government relationship between tribal nations and the U.S. government.” The Congressional response was delivered by U.S. Representative Deb Haaland of New Mexico, who is Laguna Pueblo and one of the two first Native women elected to the U.S. Congress. Both women inspired me with their mana‘o and mana they shared, the passion they have for their homes, and their shared work to advance the needs of all of our nation’s Native peoples.
The State of Indian Nations address launched NCAI’s Executive Council Winter Session, a meeting where Native leaders heard from prominent officials in the federal government, such as the U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, and various Members of Congress, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Breakout sessions provided information about the federal budget, getting out the Native vote, and increasing Native participation in the U.S. Census count, among others.
While in D.C., the U.S. Senate Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee extended to me an invitation to their tribal leaders roundtable, at which I was able to reaffirm, in front of a Committee of U.S. Senators, that the federal government has a trust responsibility to Native Hawaiians as it does to American Indians and Alaska Natives. Congress consistently recognizes Native Hawaiians as the native, indigenous people of Hawai‘i, and Native Hawaiians have never given up their right to self-determination. Other tribal leaders shared issues they are experiencing in their communities, such as murdered and missing indigenous women and climate change concerns. I enjoyed the opportunity to talk story with other leaders, including old friends from grassroots work, and new friends who were impressed by our work in Hawai‘i on Hawaiian language immersion.
I return to Hawai‘i with humility in my heart to continue to build these relationships and to work on these important issues.