2013 State Of Indian Nations
President Barack Obama gave the first State of the Union Address of his second term last week.
But many may not know that last week also saw the State of Indian Nations address given by Jefferson Keel President of the National Congress of American Indians. Keel is as member of the Chickasaw Nation from Oklahoma. But his address dealt with many common issues across Indian Country.
SDPB’s Charles Michael Ray compiled the highlights of the address for today’s Dakota Digest.
Jefferson Keel began his address with a recognition of both the diversity and strength in Indian Country.
“Native Americans are as diverse as America itself an array of cultures each with its own rich heritage its own proud history. And all of our vibrant threads, our stories and traditions, our struggles and triumphs, are woven into the fabric of America. Every day we’re reminded of how far we have come and the journey we have ahead of us. An though we’ve walked dark roads and overcome great challenges and tragedies our future holds great promise. Today Indian country is strong,” says Keel.
Keel emphasizes positive opportunities that exist for Native nations.
“That our communities might thrive in a modern global economy that our children might achieve their dreams. And today more than ever those aspirations are within our reach. Thanks to a greater trust between tribal nations and the United States we’re in a moment of real possibility. In President Obama and his administration we have a partner committed to strengthen tribal sovereignty who believes in our right to determine our own course who understands what we’ve always known to be true that Indian Nations are best governed by Indian people,” says Keel
Keel also calls for a strengthening of tribal sovereignty. He says Native nations need the power to insure their own security. He calls for an end to the high number of sexual assaults and rape Indian Country.
“Violence against women is not a cultural practice, it’s a criminal practice. That’s why we don’t tolerate it. Tribes can and do pursue justice against Native men who commit these acts. We know that assaults against Native women tend to take place at private residents. That almost 60% of Native Women are married to Non-native men. WE know all this yet we also know the tragic reality. Today tribes do not have the authority to prosecute non-natives who beat, rape or even kill women on tribal lands. State and federal authorities are often hundreds of miles away without the local resources to investigate crimes,” says Keel.
Keel says there is a need for increased tribal self-determination to spur economic development.
“A quarter of our people live in poverty, twice the national average. And while the country as a whole struggles with a unemployment rate that hovers around 8% the unemployment rate in Indian Country is more than double that. Almost one in five Native people don’t have basic phone service. And thousands more don’t even have plumbing. For too long these statistics have been accepted as the way it is in Indian Country, the goal it seems was survival. But we must do better. And, when tribes can develop their own priorities, and make their own investments, they don’t just survive they thrive,” says Keel.
Jefferson Keel points to a number of tribes who are thriving through their own economic development. He says barriers hampering sovereignty must to be lifted. He ends on a positive note–citing the triumphs already achieved and the huge future potential.
“Today you can see that sovereignty in action in tribal courts, the classrooms of tribal colleges, and in tribal businesses all over the world. This is the task at hand to move together toward a more perfect union. From Washington to Kennedy, Regan to Obama, tribal nations have worked with the United States to uphold this promise. That trust ultimately is the principal that must guide us, all of us, as we move forward and do right by all of our children and grandchildren and wen we do we will always be able to say that the state of Indian nations is strong and the future and prosperity of America is secure,” says Keel.
Jefferson Keel is President of the National Congress of American Indians. He delivered the 2013 State of Indian Nations address in Washington DC on Thursday.
You can find a link tot he entire speech on this webpage.